The Attorney General’s ruling, issued on January 17, that the town of Patagonia was within its legal rights to restrict heavy truck traffic on Harshaw Road caught several people by surprise and was met by mixed reactions, depending, unsurprisingly, on whether
people were for or against AMI Mining plans to develop a large mine in the Patagonia mountains.
The ordinance, which was approved in November by a vote of 4–1, Mayor Ike Isakson casting the sole dissenting vote, limits the number of trips heavy trucks can make over the
approximately 1 ½ mile stretch of road between Hwy 82 and the town limits on Harshaw Road.
On December 18, State Representative Vince Leach, who represents parts of Pima and Pinal counties, requested that the Attorney General investigate whether the town had acted illegally by adopting this ordinance. Any state legislator has the legal right to intervene outside their district if he or she believes that state law is being violated under Arizona state law SB1487.
Local State representative Rosana Gabaldon (LD 2) opposed the bill, saying “SB1487 was a bill that allowed any member of the Legislature to file a complaint if they believe a City/Town ordinance is out of step with State law. I believe this ‘anti-city’ law impacts
our cities and towns negatively. I don’t want to see cookie cutter communities where there is nothing that makes our cities and towns unique or special.”
State senator Andrea Dalessandro also opposed SB1478. In 2016, I did not vote for SB1487, she said. “I am pleased the Arizona Attorney General ruled in favor of the Town of Patagonia because I support local control. The Attorney General has a host of issues that need his attention including senior scams and consumer fraud to investigate.”
Santa Cruz County Supervisor
Bruce Bracker, whose district includes Patagonia, Sonoita and Elgin expected that the Attorney General would rule against the town. “I was surprised based on the tone of the state administration. Mining is a priority for the governor,” he said, “but in hindsight I
was aware that cities can restrict truck traffic in downtown areas.” Although Bracker is concerned about possible negative environmental impacts by AMI, he feels that there are benefits to having the mine developed. “As far as the mine investing $500 million in
Santa Cruz County, that number alone is going to have a positive economic impact,” he said.
“Patagonia Area Resource Alliance is delighted that the rule of law prevailed in this matter. The Town of Patagonia is protecting the rights of the community members to a quality of life, especially health and safety matters, that is threatened by the level of proposed BIG
truck traffic,” PARA spokesperson Carolyn Shafer said.
Greg Lucero, spokesman for AMI, wrote “Arizona Mining is committed to working collaboratively with the Town of Patagonia to find common ground on numerous opportunities for the region including workforce development programs and bolstering the local economy. While the decision was disappointing, we will continue to work with
local leaders in Patagonia and throughout Santa Cruz.”
Local business owner Brent Bowdon, who has been a vocal supporter of the mine, and, until recently has been working on the site, believes that the ordinance “will not in the slightest way affect that mine. The only outcome is that it has created ill will between the mining company and the town of Patagonia.” According to Bowdon, AMI’s “original plan was that all the concentrate was going to go down Duquesne [Road].” Upgrading Duquesne Road will cost AMI and estimated $26-28 million, according to Bowdon.
“What this trucking ordinance has done has ensured that the town of Patagonia will receive the minimum of social and economic benefits,” he said. The mining company had been “in the process of developing parking lots in Patagonia for workers who would then be bussed up Harshaw Rd. to the mine. The park and rides were key elements for bolstering the local economy of Patagonia.” Workers coming off shifts would have been supporting local businesses, purchasing food, shopping and eating in restaurants, according to Bowdon.
After the Attorney General’s ruling, AMI “decided that the town of Patagonia wants nothing to do with them, and the parking lot will most likely be built near the airport. That means that the Circle K in Nogales will get the benefit,” he said. “We can thank Mike Stabile and Ron Reibslager for this,” he said, naming two of the Town Council members who voted for the ordinance.
“I was worried,” said Town Council member Ron Reibslager, referring to waiting for the Attorney General’s ruling. “I felt that the balance of this town’s future was at stake,” he said. “We would have let the town down. Eventually the town would say ‘we made a terrible mistake,’ but it would be too late. That ruling saved us,” he said. “Not only us, but other small towns.”
He voted for the town ordinance for two reasons. He felt that heavy truck traffic on Harshaw Road presented a safety hazard and was also concerned that the road surface could not hold up under the potential 200 or more trucks that would be traveling over Harshaw Road each day. “They’re not sure that the bridge could withstand the weight, either,” he said.
In response to predictions about the economy of Patagonia suffering, he said, “I feel the economy of Patagonia is vibrant right now,” citing tourism, property values, and the new Audubon Center as examples. “More and more people are coming from all over the place.”
In response to Bowdon’s comment about him and Stabile, he said, “I don’t know what he’s talking about, blaming Michael and me. Just remember it was a 4–1 vote in the council. He can blame me all he wants. I don’t care.”