Thankfully, Maricopa County officials are backing away from an ill-conceived proposal to sell off part of the San Tan Mountains Regional Park in the far south East Valley.
But an alternate plan to restrict use of the park's “south finger” in exchange for gaming money from the Gila River Indian Community should be pursued only with great care.
Maricopa County Supervisors Don Stapley and Fulton Brock, who represent the East Valley, insist that their original proposal to sell the park land outright to the GRIC for $8 million would help pay for improvements to the rest of the park and that it was pursued openly and deliberatively. But the plan caught many people, including Gilbert and Queen Creek town officials, by surprise. The subsequent outcry, including from this newspaper, persuaded Stapley and Brock to change course.
That is all well and good, but we're still concerned that any plan to make money for the county in exchange for restricting use of San Tan Regional Park could turn out to be a bad deal for the public. Although the area around the park, which is located in Pinal County but owned and managed by Maricopa County, is sparsely populated now, it is growing by leaps and bounds. It would be folly to lock up park lands now that could be in great demand for use by a burgeoning population a decade or two from now.
We can sympathize with Maricopa County's budget woes. But every local government in Arizona is having to pinch pennies. But desperate moves to save or make money now at the expense of valuable public assets should be avoided.
That being said, a prospective agreement with the GRIC that would limit the kinds of development and uses allowed on the park's south finger in exchange for up to $1 million a year from the Indian community could be a win-win arrangement. But any further talks on a proposed agreement should be conducted in full public view, and include representatives from East Valley municipalities, including Gilbert and Queen Creek.
Everyone involved should be mindful not only of what would be good for the short term, but also for the future — and that rapid growth will dramatically reshape the public's needs and expectations for open space over the next few years. Any long-term decision regarding San Tan Mountains Regional Park demand both foresight and wisdom.