Wed, Feb

Regional fire districts and government agencies have lifted a fire ban that has been in effect for several weeks, but restrictions on burning still remain in unincorporated areas of Yavapai County.

Moisture and humidity played a role in the decision, according to Verde Valley Fire District Chief Jerry Doerkson; controlled burns have been exceptionally difficult to manage.

Many of the districts are following the lead of the U.S. Forest Service.

The Coconino National Forest lifted its ban Wednesday morning, according to spokesman Steve Harper. The Prescott National Forest did the same, along with the Camp Verde Fire District.

 “It’s good to go,” CVFD Spokesperson Barbara Rice said.

Rice added that typical restrictions against burning trash are still in effect.

The Camp Verde Post Office is in the process of updating records for its customers who receive mail in a post office box. That accounts for a large segment of the Camp Verde population.

The post office typically tries to update records every couple of years of who is supposed to be receiving what mail and where, but some of the records at the local office have fallen behind.

“We have some boxes that haven’t been updated with new information since the ’60s and ’70s,” postal employee Cynthia Petty said.

It’s a matter of housekeeping, Petty said.

“A lot of these boxes have a lot of different names assigned to them,” Petty said.

Notices are being given to postal customers around a month in advance when a box is scheduled for a renewal payment, Petty said.

A form will need to be filled out and returned within 30 days to prove that everyone who is associated with the mail box is verified.

The post office needs to know everyone who receives mail in a particular PO box; it also needs two forms of identification for each individual.

The list of approved identification includes any of the following:

  • valid driver’s license
  • state ID card
  • passport
  • alien registration
  • certificate of naturalization
  • current lease, mortgage or deed of trust
  • voter registration card
  • vehicle registration
  • home or vehicle insurance policy
  • armed forces ID
  • government ID
  • university ID
  • recognized corporate ID

These are the forms listed on the notice being sent to postal customers, but Petty said the post office will accept other forms of identification, including gun registration documents or other legitimate paperwork.

Minors who receive mail in a post office box are not required to provide identification; they just need to be denoted as minors on the returned form.

The manslaughter trial of a self-help author and motivational speaker has been delayed after the presiding judge has been asked to take on another case.

James Arthur Ray, 52, was arrested earlier this year after three people died in an October 2009 sweat lodge ceremony at the Angel Valley Retreat Center southwest of Sedona.

Lizbeth Neuman, 49, of Michigan, Kirby Brown, 38, of New York and James Shore, 40, of Wisconsin, died after exposure to conditions inside the sweat lodge, a large tent-like structure that was heated to sauna-like temperatures. The ceremony was part of a weekend event that cost attendees nearly $10,000 a head.

Ray pleaded not guilty to the charges of manslaughter; the trial was originally set to begin Aug. 31, with at least 50 days set aside for arguments.

Yavapai County Superior Court Judge Warren Darrow has presided over the case, but was recently assigned to the Prescott murder case against Stephen Democker, accused of beating his ex-wife to death.

The judge previously handling the case is experiencing health problems, leaving the very busy Darrow as the next choice to take over.James Arthur Ray, 52, was arrested earlier this year after three people died in an October 2009 sweat lodge ceremony at the Angel Valley Retreat Center southwest of Sedona.

Ray’s defense team continues to pursue a change of venue for the trial, arguing that the publicity here in the Verde Valley may taint a potential jury pool.

Ray defense attorney Thomas Kelly has argued that changing the location may provide more room for what he expects to be a heavily attended and publicized trial.

Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk had earlier told the court the state has no objections to the idea of moving the trial, since neither Ray nor the victims have any ties to the area.

Still, the prosecution objected to the defense’s recent efforts to move the trial on the grounds that they filed too much paperwork, but the court recently waived length limitations on motions filed by the defense.

The court also ruled that the state could ignore length rules when it files responses as a result of the decision.

Darrow has indicated that the trial might not be able to begin until November if he remains assigned to the case.

In the meantime, Ray is free on bond to continue conducting business from his base of operations in California, and from there, throughout the country.

Darrow is expected to hear further motions in the case Tuesday, Aug. 10.

Updated building codes adopted by Cottonwood City Council on July 6 will keep the cost of homeowner’s insurance at a minimum, Development Services General Manager Dan Lueder said.

They will also allow people to build structures using alternative methods like rammed earth and straw bales.

The new codes, which take effect Friday, Aug. 6, replace versions adopted by the city in May 2004, Lueder said.

“The city gets graded by the Insurance Service Organization every five years,” he said. “By adopting the newer codes, the city will get a more favorable rating.”

The rating given to the city directly impacts what people and businesses pay for insurance. The new code gets Cottonwood a rating of “excellent,” which keeps insurance costs as low as possible.

Had the new codes not been adopted, the city’s excellent rating would have dropped to “poor,” Lueder said.

Waiting longer to adopt new codes makes it tough for builders to catch up with all the changes. Adopting new codes every five years allows builders to keep pace, building inspector Joe Steinke said.

“The codes are always changing and adapting as a result of newer technology and lessons learned from natural disasters,” he said.

The biggest drawback to the codes adopted in 2004 was the absence of regulations requiring water sprinkler systems in manufactured homes, Steinke said.

The new codes spell out exactly what inspectors will be looking for, which makes it easier for builders and homeowners to know what is expected of them, Lueder said.

Another benefit of the new code is that new energy efficiency standards will keep the costs of utilities down, he said.

The city enforces the code by reviewing building plans and conducting frequent field inspections.

Violations are first discussed with the builder, who is given a chance to correct the problem. A “stop work” order may be issued to compel a builder to fix the problem. If the problem persists, the builder must explain to a hearing officer, who can make orders and issue fines.

Children who live in Bridgeport east of the Verde River could begin attending school in Cornville instead of Cottonwood depending on the outcome of a border review by Cottonwood-Oak Creek School District, Superintendent Barbara U’Ren said.

The Cottonwood-Oak Creek School District is studying changing the boundary for Oak Creek School. If approved, students in Bridgeport east of the Verde River would attend school in Cornville.The change in attendance boundaries would not come prior to the 2011-12 school year if it happens at all, U’Ren said.

COCSD Board of Governors directed the superintendent and her staff to pursue the review during its regular meeting July 13.

“We’re in the very early stages of the process,” U’Ren said. “We’re very excited about the possibilities.”

Should the board vote to change the boundary it would impact scores of students who live in Bridgeport and in the Rocking Chair Road neighborhood, she said.

Instead of attending Dr. Daniel Bright School, Cottonwood Elementary School and Cottonwood Middle School, the new boundaries would require many students east of the Verde River to attend Oak Creek School in Cornville.

U’Ren said parents will have several chances to voice concerns about the proposal, the first at a COCSD board meeting at 5 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 10, at district headquarters, 1 N. Willard St.

The board wants to review the issue because a move in boundaries would equalize the number of students at each of the schools in the district, U’Ren said.

“Oak Creek School has space for children and we need to have more children for that school to operate more efficiently,” she said.

The change would benefit Oak Creek School by eliminating some combined classes where students of different grade levels attend the same class. In classes which are not blended, teachers can focus on the needs of students in a single grade level, she said.

The change may cause some parents to be concerned Oak Creek School will not be as accessible to them as the schools in the city.

“On the other hand, they may also see Oak Creek School has that rural atmosphere with an excellent education,” U’Ren said. “They might like that K-8 delivery.”

Other parents may be concerned about the increased distance from home to school because Cottonwood is closer than Cornville for many of the affected students. However, it will take buses nearly the same amount of time to transport students, whether they attend Oak Creek School or a school in the city, U’Ren said.

“Everybody is probably very happy with the school they are attending presently,” she said. “I think there will always be the concern that it’s new — it’s a change.”

The Cottonwood Youth Advisory Commission, a group responsible for helping Cottonwood City Council understand issues important to local children, loses several charter members this month, including two who were there from the very beginning, City Representative Hezekiah Allen said.

Charter members of the city of Cottonwood’s Youth Commission Mayra Garcia, left, and Jill Peterson retire from their advisory position this summer to pursue their college educations. Among their  responsibilities as youth commissioners was choosing activities and equipment attractive to the city’s young people for the Cottonwood Recreation Center.Mayra Garcia and Jill Peterson, both 18, graduated from Mingus Union High School in May and are preparing to head for college. Both said they will leave Cottonwood with many good memories and a sense of accomplishment about their five years in service to the city.

“Mayra and Jill have been a rock,” Allen said. “I could always count on their great ideas and their passion to get things done.”

Among the first commissioners when council created the group in 2005, Garcia and Peterson were eighth-graders with a lot to learn when it all began, Garcia said.

The first priority for the commission, Garcia said, was to establish a new recreation center where area children could have fun.

Sitting for an interview at the recently opened Cottonwood Recreation Center, Garcia and Peterson said being in the new center was like a dream come true.

“We were so young when we first talked about it,” Peterson said. “To see this grow from the little seed we helped plant until now, when we’re getting ready to go off to college, seems like perfect timing.”

“I feel so inspired,” Garcia said. “It’s like we’re sitting in our dream.”

The commission advised council about the design of the center. The group suggested the climbing wall and helped select video games that allow youngsters to race on stationary bikes or show their moves on a lighted dance floor, Allen said.

Garcia said she was proudest of some of the special events the commission hosted during her tenure, including a Valentine’s Day dinner dance at Verde Valley Senior Center that was right on target for those who attended.

“A lady told me she hadn’t been out in the last five years,” Garcia said. “It’s incredible to know an event we planned could be so meaningful for someone.”

In addition to hosting dances, the commissioners held free movie nights and mentored other Cottonwood youngsters through their work with Boys & Girls Clubs of Northern Arizona. They hosted fundraisers to help pet owners cover the cost of spay and neutering their pets. They participated in the annual Relay For Life and sponsored the city’s summer youth camp.

Both commissioners said their time and experience with the city gave them a big advantage when they were looking for places to attend college.

Garcia, who plans to attend Santa Clara University on a full scholarship, said her credentials as commission president probably made the difference in her bid for the scholarship.

Peterson, who wants to pursue a career in medicine beginning at Grand Canyon University, said she’s ready for new challenges thanks to the experience she gained as a commissioner.

Neither said they planned to return to Cottonwood to live and work.

“But I’ll always a have little place in my heart for Cottonwood,” Peterson said. To volunteer for the youth commission, call Allen at 639-3200.

More than 30,000 acres of Coconino National Forest situated in the lower Verde Valley could be designated wilderness, where mountain bikes and all-terrain vehicles are banned, but only if Forest Supervisor Earl Stewart recommends it and Congress approves.

On July 10, the U.S. Forest Service issued a report about the 10 most likely candidates for wilderness designation within Coconino National Forest. Included on the list are six lower Verde Valley areas, Black Mountain, Cedar Bench, Cimarron-Boulder, Davey’s, Hackberry and Walker Mountain.The process from recommendation to approval could take one year or 20, said Sara Dechter, U.S. Forest Service social science analyst working on revisions to the Coconino National Forest Management Plan.

Before recommendations are signed, however, the public will have its say about potential wilderness, Dechter said.

USFS will meet the public to hear comments at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, July 27, at Red Rock Ranger District headquarters, 8375 SR 179, near the Village of Oak Creek.

Wilderness area designation is a small part of the Coconino National Forest Management Plan overhaul now being conducted by USFS. The last comprehensive revisions to the plan took place in 1987, Dechter said.

On July 10, the USFS issued a report about the 10 most likely candidates for wilderness designation within Coconino National Forest. Included on the list are six lower Verde Valley areas, many named for the local landmarks they encompass: Cedar Bench, Black Mountain, Cimarron-Boulder, Davey’s, Walker Mountain and Hackberry.

Most of the potential wilderness areas are grouped together south of Beaver Creek and east of Camp Verde between Forest Roads 618 and 708, Forest Planner Yewah Lau said.

In the Walker Mountain potential wilderness area, the Gila chub, black hawk, lowland leopard frog and narrow-headed garter snake would benefit from the designation. In the Black Mountain potential wilderness area, the golden eagle would.Of the six, three were considered highly needed: Black Mountain, Walker Mountain and Hackberry, USFS records state. A high-need designation means “the area contributes considerably to recreational and ecological needs.”

Need is determined by several factors, including the location, size and type of other wilderness areas in the vicinity and the distance to get there.

Other factors include how much pressure there is from visitors who want to experience wilderness and whether the area is home to species of animals needing refuge only wilderness area designation can provide.

There are already 1.1 million acres of designated wilderness within 100 miles of Cottonwood and the Verde Valley, according to the USFS report.

In the Walker Mountain potential wilderness area, the Gila chub, black hawk, lowland leopard frog and narrow-headed garter snake would benefit from the designation. In the Black Mountain potential wilderness area, the golden eagle would, the report states.

Designation would ease pressure on several species in the Hackberry potential wilderness area, including the Mexican freetail bat, red bat, Townsend’s bat, spotted bat, greater western mastiff bat, lowland leopard frog, garter snake and yellow-billed cuckoo.Designation would ease pressure on several species in the Hackberry potential wilderness area, including the Mexican freetail bat, red bat, Townsend’s bat, spotted bat, greater western mastiff bat, lowland leopard frog, garter snake and yellow-billed cuckoo, according to the report.

“I want people to know this is very early in the process,” Lau said. “There’s really no proposal on the table yet. We really want to listen to the public before recommendations are made.”

“We want to hear about the trade-offs,” Dechter said. “In an area recommended as wilderness, what would be lost and what would be gained?”

Reports about the potential wilderness areas can be viewed online at www.fs.fed.us.

After nearly four decades of service, Chief Phil Harbeson is set to retire from the Camp Verde Fire District at the end of the month.

Harbeson, a native of the area, began working with the fire district in the early 1970s.

“Things have changed a lot since then,” Harbeson said, adding he hoped to make the most of his retirement.

“I plan to do your typical retirement staff,” Harbeson said. “I plan to enjoy it.”

Deputy Fire Chief Clayton Young takes over as the interim chief for Camp Verde Fire District upon the recommendations of current Fire Chief Phil Hardeson and district Secretary and Treasurer Jack Blum. Young begins his new position when Hardeson retires  Friday, July 30.By “typical retirement stuff,” Harbeson means spending quality time fishing and riding his quad.

According to CVFD Spokeswoman Barbara Rice, Harbeson was promoted to captain toward the end of the 1970s, and became an assistant chief in the late ’80s. He was a paid part-time employee back then; most of his fellow firefighters were still volunteers at the time. It was in 1994 that he was elected the fire chief and has remained in that position ever since.

During his time with the district, Harbeson saw services expand to include ambulance and a hazmat team that is called to incidents throughout the region. Harbeson has also worked to see the construction of a new fire station, and, although the project has faced delays over the years, he plans to continue pushing the project ahead until his last day with the district.

He said leaving the district is a “bittersweet time” for him. Still, he feels he is leaving it in capable hands.

Taking over as the district’s ranking firefighter will be Deputy Chief Clayton Young, who has worked with the district almost as long as Harbeson. Young first put on the Camp Verde Fire uniform in 1975.

“It’s going to be different without [Phil],” Young said. “His first name is ‘Chief.’”

Young echoed Harbeson’s sentiments on how much things have changed in Camp Verde since the 1970s.

In addition to adapting to ever-changing rules and regulations, Harbeson said there’s a lot more in the community the firefighters are charged with protecting.

“It used to be that most of the businesses were centered on Main Street,” Young said. “The shopping areas out by Bashas’ weren’t there, and there were a lot fewer houses.”

Still, Young said the underlying mission of the fire district remains the same.

“We don’t do this looking for glory or attention,” Young said. “It’s just what we do.”

Harbeson’s retirement takes effect Friday, July 30.

Young was appointed to take over for Harbeson last week by the Yavapai County Board of Supervisors, who stamped the recommendation of the district’s governing board.

Young will serve as interim fire chief until Tuesday, Nov. 30. After that, the district hopes to have changed the way it is governed, Young said.

Currently, the district’s board consists of two people, Harbeson and Secretary and Treasurer Jack Blum. It’s less and less common to see this form of leadership in fire districts around the state.

Due to new rules passed by the Arizona Legislature, the district will switch to being run by a five-member board after the November election. The new board of directors will take their seats Wednesday, Dec. 1, and Young said that new body will make any decisions about the chief’s position.

In a letter to the county, Blum wrote that while Young will return to his position as deputy chief when the new board starts its term, they will decide whether to keep Young as interim chief until a fire chief is hired.

“They’ll run the district,” Young said. “I’m just the fire guy.”

The Camp Verde Fire District was organized in 1961.

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