This article has been updated. See note at bottom.
Santa Cruz County Supervisor Bruce Bracker will host an open house meeting next Wednesday, Sept. 27 in Patagonia regarding permitting for the controversial “Cross Creek Connector” (CCC). The CCC is a road currently being constructed by South32 on an easement across County property just north of the town.
The Sept. 27 event will run from 5-7pm at Cady Hall (346 Duquesne Ave). As the format of the event is an “open house,” members of the community may drop in anytime.
Bracker said in a phone interview this afternoon that in addition to permitting, the County also sets the technical standards for the CCC’s construction, adding that County engineers would be on hand at the open house to answer questions from attendees. County Manager Jesus Valdez is also scheduled to be present.
Asked if South32 representatives would be at the Sept. 27 meeting, Bracker replied, “We didn’t officially invite South32, but if I were them, I would have somebody attending.”
The CCC is a 1.2-mile, “low volume rural road” being constructed by the mining company to connect Harshaw Road (near the existing Harshaw Road Bridge No. 1) and SR 82. South32 intends to use the CCC to move construction materials to its Hermosa Project site, and provide a temporary market route in the early years of production.
The CCC bisects 134 acres of land given to the County by South32. In April 2022, the county’s three supervisors voted unanimously to enter into a “cooperative agreement” with South32 to accept a donation of those 134 acres to eventually be used as an open space park, with South32 retaining an easement running through the donated property to build an industrial road.
In an April 2022 response to written questions from a group of local residents regarding the CCC and the then-proposed land transfer agreement, South32 stated that it anticipated “large deliveries and heavy trucks delivering during the construction period will use the proposed road.” Once the Hermosa project mine is in production, South32 said that it anticipated that trucks loaded with mineral concentrate, weighing less then 80,000 lbs, would use the road. The concentrate trucks will be carrying zinc, lead, and silver concentrate and what the company calls “beneficiated manganese product in solid form.”
A traffic impact study released by South32 this past May found that during construction of the mine, there will be 62 heavy truck trips per day using the CCC. The study also anticipates 139 passenger vehicles transporting employees per day, with 30% traveling on Harshaw Road through Patagonia and 70% using the CCC. Once the mine begins operations in late 2024, the traffic will increase. A total of 208 heavy vehicle trips per day, 90 passenger vehicle trips per day and 32 bus trips per day will likely utilize the CCC. The traffic study states that the CCC will be utilized to accommodate all traffic expected through 2034.
The traffic study was met with some alarm by members of Patagonia’s town council.
“South32 is a better company than the previous owners, so I was shocked when I saw the traffic numbers,” said Patagonia Vice Mayor Michael Stabile in an interview with the PRT in late May. “The thing we would ask for is a way to minimize the impact of the traffic. I would like to see all the stakeholders—the state, the county, and the town of Patagonia—get together and come up with a better plan.”
South32 officials have repeatedly stated that the company would prefer to use a different “long term” route instead of the CCC. The company’s preferred long-term route would access SR 82 through Flux Canyon. But that route requires federal permits that, even in a best-case scenario, couldn’t be awarded until late 2026. South32 intends to begin delivering battery-grade manganese to customers at the end of 2025.
South32 currently reaches SR 82 from its Hermosa site by traveling down Harshaw Road and then using public roads through the town of Patagonia. But heavy duty truck traffic on Patagonia roads is limited by a Town ordinance adopted in November, 2017, which has survived challenges at the state level.
Under that ordinance, each person, firm, or entity is restricted to no more than 100 trips (one-way) by heavy duty trucks per week through town. That limit is significantly below the traffic that South32 is forecasting it needs for its operations starting in 2027.
The development of the CCC, on land immediately outside the Patagonia town limits, under County jurisdiction, is understood to be a response by South32 to these restrictions.
According to the County’s April 2022 cooperative agreement overview, the County has control over permits for Flood Plain Use, and the intersection of the CCC and Harshaw Rd. The 2022 agreement, the County says in the overview, “give[s] the County a ‘seat at the table’ to plan and design facilities that suit the needs of the community and help to mitigate any impacts.”
Note: This article was updated on Sept. 23 to correct and clarify the ownership of the land the CCC is being constructed on. It is Santa Cruz County’s property, not South32’s. Under the terms of the 2022 cooperative agreement between the County and South32, South32 retains an easement running through the donated property to build a road, which is the CCC. On Sept. 27, this article was further updated to clarify that the Supervisors’ April 2022 vote was conducted in open (not executive) session. The PRT regrets the errors.