Roads Superintendent Howdy Aguilar answers questions about chip sealing in the Papago Springs neighborhood in Sonoita. Photo by Marion Vendituoli

County officials and public works staff met with concerned residents from the Papago Springs area of Sonoita on January 16 at the Sonoita Fairgrounds to address concerns raised about the chip sealing of roads in that neighborhood. 

District 3 Supervisor Bruce Bracker, Director of Public Works Jesus Valdez and Roads Superintendent Howdy Aguilar addressed the audience of approximately 45 people. 

The project to chip seal seven miles of Holbrook Dr, Terry Lane, Frazier Dr, Collie Dr and parts of Papago Springs Rd had been put on hold last fall when concerns were raised by a few residents about the project. A number of residents felt that they had not received any notice about the project, and some felt that the chip sealing would change the nature of their community and cause people to speed. 

County officials scheduled the Jan. 16 meeting to explain the project, to answer questions and to hear the concerns of the residents. Ironically, one of the first questions raised addressed the lack of communication between the county and residents. “Why did we not get a good notification of this meeting?” an audience member asked. Valdez apologized, saying that the county did not have good mailing addresses for many of the residents. 

Bracker explained that there is, at present, HURF funds available, federal gasoline tax dollars distributed to cities and counties, to pay for chip sealing, which will save the county money in reduced maintenance costs. Chip sealing costs between $45,000 – $50,000 per mile to install. 

Dirt “native” roads require periodic grading, on average four times a year, while chip sealed roads require little maintenance, he explained. Chip sealing is considered a better surface than native roads because of less dust and better drainage. He also cited the lack of county employed heavy equipment operators. “At one time we had 11 people working in the area. Now we have two people,” he said. 

Several people commented on the state of the road at this point, asking if the work done last fall before the project was suspended has been undone by the winter rains. “This is the worst I’ve ever seen,” one woman commented. “It’s a mess.” 

Richard Collins, of Sonoita, asked if speed bumps could be added to the roads, but Valdez stated that speed bumps were too hard to maintain and were dangerous at night when they were not visible. 

Another audience member asked, “Is this already set in stone? Do we have a say in this? Is this a discussion or is this a project you have already decided on?” “We’re here to listen,” Bracker responded. After the end of the meeting Aguilar commented, “I think the project is going forward. Bracker agreed. “People were overwhelmingly in favor of it, based on emails and phone calls after the article [in the Dec. issue of the Patagonia Regional Times].”