Arizona has told the city of Phoenix that if it wants to save a state-owned desert wash teeming with wildlife, it must buy the land for $25 million.
A citizens' group
hopes to persuade state officials that the historic, biological and
recreational value of Cave Creek Wash makes it worth the money. But
state staffers say the wash has been degraded by off-road vehicles
and floods that have washed away much of the vegetation that grew
along its banks.
Pristine or not, the state land
department is legally required to sell or lease its trust land for
maximum profit, and growing suburbs provide a strong market for
sand and gravel. Last year, the department leased 144 acres in the
wash to Wheeler Construction Co. of Phoenix for $2.5 million over
10 years. Applications from other sand and gravel companies have
since flooded in.
The revenue is supposed to
support Arizona's public school system. However, critics say if the
land is sold, schools won't profit because the Legislature slashes
state aid to education by the amount of the sale. "No school will
get a dime," writes Arizona Republic reporter Laurie Roberts. "We
get a gravel pit. Right where a preserve ought to be."