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CBashore / Cody Bashore, Arizona Daily Sun 

Basis Flagstaff's Bennet Brixon prepares to return a ball during Friday's match against Northland Prep at Continental Country Club.


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RENEWABLE ENERGY
City of Flagstaff and Hopi Tribe partner on renewable energy project

The city of Flagstaff and the Hopi Tribe have announced they will collaborate on a new renewable energy project that would provide sustainable revenues to the tribe and help fulfill the city’s green energy goals.

The project, which would likely be a solar plant, would be built on Hopi land and the power would be purchased by the city to help it reach 100 percent renewable power for municipal government operations.

“From (the Hopi Tribe’s) economic development perspective and self-reliance perspective it’s a really neat story and it fits well with the city’s goals of diversifying our portfolio,” said Nicole Woodman, the city’s sustainability manager.

The partners are eyeing two potential sites on Hopi land north of Interstate 40 and east of Flagstaff with a total area of about 130 acres, said Steve Puhr, manager of development and strategy at the Hopi Tribe Economic Development Corporation, which is working on the project on behalf of the tribe.

At 19 megawatts, the project will get the city of Flagstaff “very close” to its goal of 100 percent renewable energy use for city government operations, Woodman said. In fiscal year 2017, just 5 percent of the city’s energy usage was generated by renewable sources, according to city data.

The renewable energy work also is a chance for the city and the tribe to demonstrate collaboration despite a history of sometimes bumpy relations, most notably the long-running legal battles over snowmaking on the San Francisco Peaks, Puhr said.

“We’re not oblivious to the fact that if this happens it is at least an olive branch to say, ‘Hey, at least we can work together,’” he said.

Next year’s closure of the coal-fired Navajo Generating Station has added new urgency to Hopi efforts to find other sources of revenue. More than 80 percent of the tribe’s budget is funded by coal royalties from the Kayenta Mine, which supplies the generating station, and a 2016 report estimated that the power plant’s closure would mean the loss of 400 out of 475 tribal government jobs.

Looking forward, the tribe sees renewable energy as at least part of the financial solution, said Ken Lomayestewa, director of the Hopi Renewable Energy Office. While there are no large-scale solar projects on Hopi land right now, the tribe is looking to position itself as a competitive option to developers because tribal trust lands are often exempt from state and local taxes, Puhr said. The economic development corporation is also working on getting certified to apply for a federal tax credit that would knock even more off developers’ costs, he said.

Revenue-wise, however, leasing land for renewable energy projects brings in a pittance compared to the approximately $14 million in coal-related revenue the tribe now receives annually. Puhr said his team’s surveys show leasing land to a large-scale solar plant would bring in just $3 million to $5 million over the course of a 25- to 30-year lease.

But that isn’t stopping the tribe from pivoting toward renewables. The Hopi have done several studies of wind and solar resources on the reservation, available transmission capacity for new projects, land requirements for those installations and the technology available, Lomayestewa said.

After several years during which his office focused mostly on small-scale residential solar projects on the reservation, Lomayestewa said recent preparations for larger-scale development have been moving on “a really fast track.”

The tribe also turned in a solar energy proposal to the Central Arizona Water Conservation District, which runs the Central Arizona Project canal. The district has long purchased power from the Navajo Generating Station and its new effort to diversify its portfolio is an encouraging sign for Hopi, Lomayestewa said.

So is the trend of cities in the Southwest looking to shift to renewable power, he said.

“We're looking at those markets and seeing how we can be a part of that development,” he said.

As for the city of Flagstaff, it will begin looking for renewable energy developers for its project this spring, Woodman said. It also needs to work with APS to make sure the utility will allow another source of solar generation to connect into its system, she said. In that sense, APS has a lot of influence over how or whether the project moves forward, she said.

APS spokeswoman Jenna Rowell said that while the project is in the very early stages, the utility is very supportive of that model of cooperation between cities, utilities and other parties.

State regulators would need to give their approval as well.

Considering the upcoming negotiations and the permissions that will be needed, Woodman estimated that people driving along I-40 could start seeing work on the renewable energy infrastructure starting in two or two and a half years.

“I’m hopeful this can be a showcase project for northern Arizona,” she said.


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HELLO, MUDDER
Here's mud in your eye: Nearly bare winter hazardous to roads, trails

It’s been another winter of my discontent out on the ski touring trails around Flagstaff.

I can count on one hand the number of days I’ve been able to get out without scraping my rock skis down to bare wood.

And don’t even mention the parking situation along Highway 180.

Arizona Daily Sun 

Tire tracks form ruts along Forest Road 794, which was gated and for use only by snowmobilers to get to and from their cabins on Hart Prairie.

But this winter, there’s been a new reason to grouch: open forest roads that instead of a smooth, snowy track have deep, twin ruts down to bare earth.

George Jozens, a spokesman for the Coconino National Forest, confirms that the dearth of snow has meant little reason to gate some roads this winter. In the Lake Mary corridor, for example, nearly every forest road has been left ungated. Also, all the roads off Highway 89A from Flagstaff to the Oak Creek Canyon Overlook are open. And the same goes for Woody Mountain Road south of Rogers Lake all the way to the rim.

A truck plows down the road to Marshall Lake, a road that has been closed to wheeled vehicles in past winters.

In the past, these were the gateways to some smooth ski touring at places like Marshall Lake. This year, we were dodging pickup drivers out joyriding or, in one case, exercising their dogs.

Then there were the scofflaw drivers simply going around the chains on roads off Highway 180. When I confronted one on FR 794 after he dug up the track used by the cabin-dwelling snowmobilers on Hart Prairie, he said he was “lost.” I told him I’d give him a 10-minute head start to get back out on the pavement before calling a ranger.

Jake Bacon, Arizona Daily Sun 

A bike tire track digs deeply into a waterlogged recreation trail behind Willow Bend Thursday afternoon.

Not that I am blameless when it comes to leaving ruts. With snow melting faster in late February than I could strap on skis, I turned to bicycling the FUTS south of Flagstaff. The sunny spots were dry, but the shadowy stretches held their snow for a remarkably long time. Before I knew it, I was ankle deep in mud and leaving a track nearly as deep as those pickups, albeit narrower. And on one occasion, I was even sideways on the ground with the end of a handlebar in my ribs after failing to negotiate a slick turn.

So here we are in mid-March, and there’s not enough base to ski the roads and trails even at 8,000 feet but too much mud to do much biking or every hiking. We used to call such conditions “mud season” in Maine, although it came a month later and lasted a lot longer. The difference is how long the ground remains frozen up to a depth of about 6 inches, trapping the daily snowmelt on top along with a layer of muck. In Flagstaff, we’ll be defrosted by Easter; in Maine, it was Mother’s Day.

Jake Bacon, Arizona Daily Sun 

A pair of runners from Northern Arizona University dodges puddles on a soggy trail Thursday afternoon behind Willow Bend.

A least I haven’t encountered the dreaded “caliche” mud this winter that sticks to a bike tire or shoe sole in 6-inch layers. I got off the trail once at Buffalo Park after a wet winter and nearly couldn’t slog my way back. It is a good excuse to observe the “Stay on Trail” signs, even if bogging down in caliche is not the only reason.

So what can be done about preserving trails and roads during a relatively bare winter like this one? Short of a blanket – and unenforceable – closure order, it’s up to all of us to simply wait out mud season above the rim.

It’s why, after all, they invented the slickrock of Sedona.

Lindsay Wilson, Courtesy 

The author pauses along Forest Road 794. Vehicles that drove around the gate made the track impossible for skiing and snowmobiling within a half-day.


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NAU asks Board of Regents to increase tuition and fees

Northern Arizona University is proposing increasing tuition for incoming undergraduates by 3.5 percent and tacking on a $150 athletic fee for all students at its Flagstaff campus.

The university is proposing to use the athletic fee to support facility improvements and student engagement programming on the Flagstaff campus, according to a press release.

NAU is estimating $7.5 million more in net tuition and fee revenue next year if its request is approved, with $3.2 million coming from the fee increase and $4.3 million coming from the tuition increase.

All three Arizona universities submitted their proposed fee and tuition schedules to the Arizona Board of Regents on Friday. A public hearing to collect comments on the tuition increases is set for 5 to 7 p.m. on March 27 at NAU’s Babbitt Administration Center, Room 206 on the Flagstaff campus. The hearing will also be streamed online at ABOR’s website, www.azregents.edu.

NAU’s request includes a 3.5 percent increase in tuition for new undergraduate students next year at most of its campuses, except its Yavapai campus. The Yavapai Campus tuition is expected to increase by about 5 percent.

Students who are part of the university’s Pledge program will not see a tuition increase. The Pledge program locks in the tuition rate for four years from the time they are freshmen.

NAU graduate students at the Flagstaff campus face a 6 percent increase in tuition and the $150 athletic fee. Graduate students at NAU’s Yuma campus will see a 4 percent increase in tuition.

“NAU is mindful of the costs for students and families and is focused on continuing to provide high-quality education for all Arizonans, preparing graduates with the skills they need to enter high demand fields and contribute to the state’s workforce,” said NAU President Rita Cheng in a press release. “I remain committed to this important program as well as the accessible, affordable and quality options for earning a degree throughout Arizona and online.”

NAU is not the only state university to increase new undergraduate and graduate tuition and fee rates. According to information from ABOR, Arizona State University is increasing tuition for nonresident undergrads at its main campus by 3.5 percent. It’s also requesting a $30 per year increase to its health and wellness fee. ASU resident graduate students can expect a 1.5 percent tuition increase and nonresident graduate students can expect a 3.5 percent increase.

The University of Arizona is requesting an across the board 2 percent increase in tuition and a $2 fee increase for undergraduates at all of its campuses. It’s also asking for a 2 percent increase for graduate students at all of its campuses and a 3 percent tuition increase for graduate students in its college of medicine.

The universities will present their requests to ABOR from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. March 29 at the ASU Memorial Union, Turquoise room. The board will make a final approval of the tuition and fee schedules at its April 5 meeting. Both meetings will be live-streamed on the Internet on ABOR’s website. Public comments on the tuition schedule will not be taken at these meetings.

Individuals may also send comments via e-mail to the Arizona Board of Regents at tuition@azregents.edu; by regular mail, at 2020 N. Central Ave., Suite 230, Phoenix, AZ 85004; or by fax at (602) 229-2555.Comments received prior to April 2 at 5 p.m. will be shared with the regents in advance of their April meeting.


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Flagstaff Council hires firm for $25,000 to seek new city manager

Flagstaff City Council has approved the hiring of a consulting firm to seek a new city manager for the city. The approval to hire Slavin Management Consultants came during an executive session of council on Tuesday.

The total cost of the contract is anticipated to be $25,000.

The search for a new city manager started last month after Josh Copley, the city’s most recent city manager, turned in his letter of resignation and council decided to make the resignation effective sooner than Copley’s deadline of May 8. In his letter Copley alleged “unprofessional and discourteous” treatment from two unnamed council members. Both council and Copley have declined to name the “discourteous” council members. Deputy City Manager Barbara Goodrich was appointed interim city manager by council.

According to city spokeswoman Jessica Drum, city staff considered seven possible firms and heard comments on each from council before settling on Slavin. The seven firms considered were Novak Consulting Group, Slavin Management Consultants, Peckham and McKenney, The Mercer Group, Ralph Andersen & Associates, GovHR USA and Bob Murray & Associates.

According to its website, Slavin is based in Norcross, Ga., about 20 miles north of Atlanta. It was founded in 1988 by a group of former local government officials and provides hiring consulting services to public governments nationwide.

The contract with Slavin is based on a cooperative purchase contract with the city of Peoria. Cooperative purchase contracts are a frequently used tool for local governments. According the National Association of State Procurement Officials issue brief, a cooperative purchase agreement allows several entities, such as cities, to band together in order to get a better price on contracts for goods and services, such office supplies, vehicles, fuel and services such as garbage disposal contracts or information technology services, software or consulting firms like Slavin.

According to Drum, cooperative contacts like this are allowed through the city’s procurement manual and contracts less than $50,000 may be signed by the Flagstaff city manager without a public vote by the council.

The city first started looking for a new city manager in 2015, after Kevin Burke left for a new job as the city manager of Paradise Valley. At that time, council hired CPS HR Consulting. Jeff Meilbeck, the CEO of the Northern Arizona Intergovernmental Public Transit Authority served as interim city manager for several months while the city and CPS waded through 45 applicants for the position. Council ended up rejecting the 11 finalists from that search.

It hired Josh Copley, who was serving as a deputy city manager for the city at the time, for 18 months as city manager. Council interviewed another six candidates for the position in February 2016 before deciding to extend Copley’s contract through February 2019. Copley turned in his letter of resignation last month. Council decided to make the resignation effective about five days later.


City Manager Josh Copley