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Buckeye is the fifth fastest growing city in the U.S.

According to the U.S. Census, Buckeye added more than 3,800 people last year for a 5.9 percent growth rate that brought its estimated total population to 68,453.

Why would this formerly small farming community west of Phoenix be growing so fast? It’s not like it’s a destination community.

“Hey, Martha, let’s save up so we can move to Buckeye, Arizona.”

Well, the good news is that Buckeye’s success means one thing: There is hope for Eloy.

Booming Buckeye is an example of the progressive expansion of development out of Metro Phoenix. But there could be more to the explanation than just free-market reasons.

It could be by design.

State Rep. David Cook, R-Globe, says the Arizona Department of Water Resources is deliberately delaying approval of assured water supply permits in Pinal County necessary for housing and business development.

And some digging by staff writer Jake Kincaid shows that Cook, who represents much of Pinal County, isn’t just blowing political smoke in an election year.

“Pinal County is at a disadvantage in competing with counties like Maricopa and Pima, not because of workforce development, quality of life, geographic location, opportunity or equal taxation, but because ADWR is holding these permits hostage,” Cook said. “Pinal County is just being kept in the dark and locked up. So these developments are happening in other counties.”

Kincaid found that Pinal’s permits faced longer delays than those in Maricopa County.

A lot longer.

Pinal has a “pending” average of 508 days, while those in Maricopa County average only 117 days.

The discrepancy can’t simply be explained away as a case of water availability. Both counties have similar water sources. They are served by the Central Arizona Project, and Buckeye is no different than Coolidge when it comes to agricultural water usage. If anything, the delays should be the same.

Cook thinks growth is being directed to western Maricopa County and away from Pinal County.

“So that is where homes are being built and towns are being largely expanded and stuff. While poor little Pinal County, you know, we can’t even get I-10 widened from Casa Grande to Phoenix,” Cook said. “I think that Pinal County is at a disadvantage and it’s being slow-rolled. There are more representative elected officials that serve Maricopa County than any other county in our state. ...”

While I’m not much for conspiracy theories, Cook may be on to something. There really doesn’t seem to be any interest on the state level of widening Interstate 10 between Casa Grande and Chandler, a necessary component to expansion in the area. Everyone is pointing fingers at opposition from the Gila River Indian Community, which controls the right of way along the freeway across the reservation.

But GRIC opposition and court challenges didn’t stop the South Mountain Freeway from being constructed, which is intended to better connect the East Valley with the West Valley.

There is a lot of economic investment in the West Valley, such as University of Phoenix Stadium and other entertainment businesses that need neighboring development and access to be successful. Blocking growth from the I-10 corridor south of Phoenix to encourage it moving westward makes sense.

At least to Maricopa and state officials.

So what is Pinal County to do?

Cook plans to hold stakeholder meetings in the late summer or early fall as well as meetings with ADWR to address the issue.

It might be worth it to ask them if delaying the water permits was all part of a plan.

We could even dub the conspiracy “watergate.”

Oh wait, that’s already been used.

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Andy Howell can be contacted at ahowell@pinalcentral.com.

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