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Shooters target water mains creating nightmare for Arizona Water Company
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FLORENCE — In Arizona, whiskey’s for drinking and water’s for fighting: including target practice.

The water system that feeds the town of Superior, managed by Arizona Water Company, involves a complex engineering project whose challenges include pumping treated water at high pressure 26 miles east and over 1,000 feet in elevation.

But perhaps the biggest challenge for the water system is that the pipes have become a popular source for target practice.

Because it is above ground, the water main that sends water from the Desert Well site, just north of Florence, to Superior is exposed and site managers say they can tell when it has been penetrated by local shooters when the water pressure — normally kept at 800 PSI — suddenly drops dramatically.

The efforts to maintain the pipes cost valuable time and money, not to mention water, in the middle of an area currently experiencing a decades-long drought.

Due to its remote location off State Route 79, the shooters are almost never identified.

“It’s a crime to tamper with the federal water system,” said AWC President Fred Schneider, “but by the time you get out there, usually the perpetrators are gone.”

AWC Division Manager Bill Staples said that they know the shooters are intentionally aiming to create a geyser because they often find dents all around the area around the bullet hole, indicating multiple attempts at breaking through the steel transition main.

“It’s not an easy task to repair that damage,” said AWC production foreman Jim Padilla. “We have to drain miles of water, get the pressure down to repair the pipeline, then get the pressure back up. It’s time consuming and dangerous, and the company loses.”

The incidents tend to happen once every few years, an occurrence frequent enough to cause trouble for the company. However, because Superior’s water supply is stored in tanks near the town, the maintenance work doesn’t affect the town.

AWC officials said that while they don’t have any plans to use drones or other technology that would keep trespassers away, the company is working on upgrades to the pressure valves to put them in at shorter intervals, which would mean faster repairs.

AWC is the largest water provider in Pinal County, operating nine water systems to over 130,000 residents including those in Arizona City, Coolidge and Casa Grande.

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Tohono O’odham poet and linguistics expert recounts early years at CAC
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SIGNAL PEAK — The Vaquero Awards, held after a two-year hiatus at Central Arizona College on Saturday, are meant to honor those who have gone on to make an impact within the community.

But before this year’s nominees received their awards, guest speaker Ofelia Zepeda delivered a powerful keynote speech about the role CAC has played in educating and empowering local Native American students, including herself.

“I wholeheartedly acknowledge CAC as an important institution, one that was foundational for me,” Zepeda said. “The campus is in a special place, in a desert place.”

Zepeda, who is Tohono O’odham, reminded attendees that they were on traditional homelands of indigenous people. Before reading through some of her poems, Zepeda detailed the very unusual circumstances that led her to become a renowned linguistics professor and author.

“Back in the seventies, it was common for Tohono O’odham children to grow up in the cotton fields, not knowing English and not starting school until very late,” Zepeda said.

Zepeda herself grew up around the fields of Stanfield, helping her parents pick cotton. Neither of her parents had a formal education nor spoke English.

At some point local truant officers looking for children “captured” her and some of her siblings, as she described it, and placed her in the school system.

For Zepeda, this turned out to be a welcome development.

“I remember clearly enjoying school,” Zepeda said. “I made friends with a few teachers, who were taken by what I was able to do.”

Zepeda said her aptitude and enthusiasm for school was such that she lied to her parents about “mandatory” summer school, when in fact she attended summer classes just to pick up English and learn more. Despite their lack of education, Zepeda’s parents supported and encouraged her academic success.

“My mother sensed that education was important and took it seriously,” Zepeda said, “even though it was a totally different world for her. She took pride in sending her children to school each day clean and healthy.”

After graduating Casa Grande Union High School, Zepeda attended CAC — she graduated in 1974 — before going on to the University of Arizona, where she is currently a regents’ professor of linguistics. Zepeda has become a leader on O’odham language research and keeping the language, and culture, alive.

As part of that effort, Zepeda has published several books and poetry collections, and she recited two poems at the event.

The first, “The Man Who Drowned in the Irrigation Ditch,” was a melancholy account of a real-life experience from her childhood when an older relative slipped in the aforementioned ditch and died.

The poem’s narrator foresees the tragedy, envisioning “him falling over backwards, his body slowly sinking into the water.”

The second poem, “Squash Under the Bed,” was more lighthearted.

“There was always squash under our beds,” Zepeda said. “Large, hard-skinned squash with speckled green and yellow designs. It shared spaces with cowboy boots, lost socks, forgotten toys, dust and little spiders.”

When the winter comes, the squash is taken out and Zepeda describes her “swallowing the warmth of summer” and saving the seeds to repeat the ritual the following year.

Zepeda is one of CAC’s original “Wall of Success” honorees from 2009, when it was created to celebrate the college’s 40th anniversary.

The Vaquero Award nominees this year were two Class of 2000 CAC graduates: Adriana Saavedra, who has been CAC’s director of library services for over a decade, and Mike Flores II, president of the Coolidge Unified School District Governing Board and longtime adviser for youth programming in Coolidge designed to provide prevention education, such as Students Against Destructive Decisions.

Former track and field coach Al Shirley was inducted into the school’s Athletic Hall of Fame.

For Zepeda, the journey from Stanfield cotton fields to a leading role at the Language Development Institute at UA has been a dizzying experience, but one that she clearly embraced.

“Sometimes I think that maybe I’m not supposed to be here,” Zepeda said. “I tell myself, ‘You shouldn’t have made it.’ That’s always the type of conflict I have. I’m still in disbelief sometimes. It’s a miracle, I believe in miracles.”

As COVID cases rise, Ducey encourages vaccine, but opposes mandates
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PHOENIX — Gov. Doug Ducey remains adamant he’s not going to force anyone to get inoculated or even wear a mask as COVID cases in Arizona rise to the highest level since before the vaccine was available.

The governor said Monday he believes that these decisions should be made by individuals in consultation with their doctors. But he did acknowledge that some people are not checking with medical professionals but instead self-medicating with things like a drug designed to treat parasites in horses.

“Well, I think you do everything you can to get the facts out there,” he said. “You want to go to a physician versus Facebook, that’s what I would say.”

The governor’s comments come as the number of cases in the state has trended upwards in the past month. More notable is the fact that the daily cases are hitting levels not seen since January, before the vaccine was available.

At the same time, the most recent figures showed just 545 vacant inpatient beds at Arizona hospitals, the lowest since the pandemic began.

But there is a shift: Just 2,470 available beds — 28% — were occupied by COVID patients, versus in January when those with the virus took up nearly 60% of the available beds.

But the governor, who has been a proponent of people getting vaccinated — but only if they want — rejected the idea that whatever the state is doing is not working.

“Listen, the virus is transmissible, it’s contagious, it comes in waves,” he said.

“It does appear seeing the data over the past several weeks that there’s another wave on its way,” the governor continued. “I would encourage people to talk to their local health care provider or to their family doctor on what they should do in terms of next steps.”

The governor did not disagree that there are people instead who are self-medicating, using non-proven alternatives — like ivermectin, which is generally used to fight parasites in horses and is not recommended as a treatment or preventative for COVID.

That, Ducey said, comes back to his point about doing what can be done “to get the facts out” and not using social media for medical advice. But the decisions on the vaccine and even more passive prevention methods like masks, the governor said, are beyond what government should be doing.

Not everyone agrees.

Some school districts are requiring faculty and students to wear face coverings while on campus. And cities like Tucson and Phoenix have told employees they need to be vaccinated.

Ducey, who at one time tried to curb those practices with executive orders, noted they can do that, legally, as state laws that sought to them were declared void.

But the trial judge never ruled that the edicts themselves were illegal. What was, said Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Katherine Cooper, was the fact they were improperly enacted.

The governor appears interested in revisiting the issue — presumably trying to have the restrictions reenacted, this time in a way that is legal. But that is not likely to happen until the legislature reconvenes in January, with Ducey saying Monday he still is “reviewing” a request by Attorney General Mark Brnovich for a special legislative session before then.

But he clearly was not happy about what is being done in the interim, particularly by cities.

“We’re a state that wants to fund the police, wants to support our workers that are out there,” the governor said. “I want to give people the information and respect their choice.”

And Ducey said the Phoenix mandate is not being well received.

“I’ve got friends on both the police force and the fire department,” he said, speaking of one person who called him just Monday.

“He said if they’re going to terminate him he’s going to take the termination,” Ducey said, saying he is hesitant to get vaccinated. “He shared with me his reasons. I respect his thinking on this.”

The governor himself does not share that hesitancy, having rolled up his sleeve himself and provided financial resources to make the vaccine available But Ducey said that, beyond that, it’s not his role to change individual minds.

“When someone has questions, they want to go to a subject matter expert on that,” he said. “I think that’s a medical doctor or a health care professional.”

Separately Monday, Brnovich expanded his existing lawsuit against the Biden administration’s mandate that federal workers and employees of those with contracts with the federal government be vaccinated. He added unions representing police and fire fighters in Phoenix.

Earlier this month, U.S. District Court Judge Michael Liburdi rejected a bid by Brnovich to enjoin enforcement of the mandate. But the judge gave the attorney general the opportunity to amend his complaint and try again.

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Pinal shooting range a surprise to neighbors
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FLORENCE — Pinal County personnel are clearing a road to an isolated 10-acre tract south of Arizona Farms Road for a future sheriff’s shooting range, which neighbors fear will cause property values to plummet in the surrounding pristine desert and open range land north of Florence.

Bret Marchant, a cattle rancher, said it was “sprung on landowners who had no clue.” Since it’s Pinal County’s project, it did not require notifying neighbors and following a public rezoning process as would be required of a regular citizen.

Marchant said a regular citizen probably couldn’t do it. He said he called the Pinal County planning department to inquire about building a shooting range in a General Rural zone, and “they actually laughed at me” and said it would never be approved.

Marchant guessed surrounding properties, held as investments or with the hopes of building houses someday, will be devalued 50% or more by the presence of a shooting range, and perhaps 600 acres will be affected.

The project is about 1,650 feet away from one 18-year resident, and a bit farther from two other landowners who are in the early stages of planning homes. The longtime resident, who asked not to be identified, said he will hear a decibel level above what’s allowed in the county’s noise ordinance “every time they fire a shot.”

The resident said the loss of property value amounts to a “taking” by the government. “For the county to ramrod it through seems outrageous.”

Pinal County Supervisor Kevin Cavanaugh, R-Coolidge, whose district the shooting range will be in, also expressed dismay at the lack of public notice in an interview with PinalCentral.

“I’ve asked county management not to let this happen again. Just because we can do it doesn’t make it right,” Cavanaugh said. He said he has recommended that a sheriff’s representative and perhaps also someone from Pinal County Public Works meet with citizens to discuss specifics, “and see if they can get buy-in from the neighbors. … My goal as a supervisor is to see that all of our processes are carefully vetted and examined moving forward.”

Marchant said he learned of the county’s plans after he saw flags marking the future road. He said the county would better serve taxpayers by buying a piece of state land somewhere else that wouldn’t negatively affect neighbors.

No one from Pinal County management or the Sheriff’s Office had responded to PinalCentral’s request for comment by late Monday afternoon.

Sheriff’s Chief Deputy Matthew Thomas responded to the longtime resident by email that the office chose this location because it was remote but central. It also won’t be visible from the main roads, he said.

Thomas told the resident in another email that the Sheriff’s Office has an indoor range in Florence that it has been using for over a decade. But this range has several health and safety issues, and the department’s desire is to close it. He continued that it’s not as simple as using another agency’s shooting range.

While it’s true there are other local ranges, they are owned and controlled by others, Thomas said. “This means that we are competing with every other agency or entity that uses them, and lose the ability to conduct our training as needed. With an agency our size, and the amount and frequency of the training, it is just not feasible for us to do this.”

Thomas’s email continued, “Our intent and the design of this entire range is to be completely self-contained and safe. The design itself is such that it is following national standards for barrier height/width, and to ensure that the firing of projectiles is contained within the firing areas.

“Of course to access the range, we have to create a road to the range, and we conducted all the required land studies to do so, and this road will be developed/constructed to proper standards, as well as maintained for our exclusive use.”