A recently posted sign warns drivers that a long established route across private properties, used by residents when the Sonoita Creek floods, is no longer accessible. Photo by Marion Vendituoli

Residents living along Blue Haven Rd. in Patagonia are facing an unexpected challenge this monsoon season. Their long-established emergency route across private properties, used when the wash on Pennsylvania Ave. is impassable due to flooding, has been blocked by a property owner.

Nathan Hoeme, who recently bought 3.11 acres off Grey Hawk Trail, a private road that runs off Blue Haven, has closed off access on both ends of his property, effectively blocking a road that has historically enabled residents to avoid the Sonoita Creek wash when it floods. He posted a sign at the wash on Pennsylvania Ave. stating “All high-water access between Grey Hawk Lane and North Ave. is being decommissioned. Please make plans accordingly for the 2023 monsoon season and beyond.”

“People are pretty upset,” area resident Cholla Duir said. “Nobody feels that this is normal behavior for a small town.” Duir is concerned that in an emergency, people will be forced to try to drive through the flooded wash to seek help. “Somebody’s going to get hurt or killed crossing the creek,” Duir said.

Patagonia Volunteer Fire and Rescue Company Chief Ike Isakson has witnessed the water running in the wash higher than the height of a car. “It happens every year,” he said. “I don’t remember a year when the creek hasn’t flooded. And I can’t remember when [that route] was ever blocked. It was always open when the creek flooded.”

Patagonia Town Manager Ron Robinson noted that it can take up to 48 hours for floodwaters to recede in the event of a major storm.

The route that Hoeme has blocked off runs somewhat parallel to his northwestern property line. The property abuts land owned by Tucson Audubon, and there is a possibility that Hoeme’s gate on North Ave. may indeed have been placed on Audubon property, although this has not been confirmed.

This map shows the location of the newly blocked emergency route off of Grey Hawk Trail in Patagonia. Graphic by Marion Vendituoli

Hoeme’s decision to block the route affects not only the 45 residents who lie on the far side of the wash, but also visitors to the Audubon Society’s Paton center and the Nature Conservancy’s Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve.

“From what I know, and after talking with Nathan, we do not have an easement through the blocked emergency route,” wrote Luke Safford, Director of Engagement and Education for the Tucson Audubon Society. “We are actively working to figure out how we might be able to change Nathan’s mind about blocking the route and how we can work with the Town of Patagonia and our neighbors to find a solution.”

Melissa Fratello, the Executive Director of Tucson Audubon, wrote to the PRT, “We are all keenly aware of the potential danger this situation poses for residents in Patagonia, as well as visitors to the Paton Center, and are attempting to work toward a solution. Unfortunately, given the abrupt and immediate decision made by Nathan Hoeme to restrict access so close to monsoon season, it is unlikely we can come to an agreement/compromise as quickly as we’d like to avoid folks potentially becoming stranded.”

Construction of a road across the Audubon property could resolve the issue, but this may not be possible due to conservation easements on the land there. Town Manager Robinson stated that seizing the road through Hoeme’s property by declaring it a prescriptive easement is not an option because the road was not used regularly for ten or more years, but only during flooding events.

“There are zero other options,” Patagonia Town council member Francesca Claverie said. Claverie, who lives off Blue Haven Rd. has met with other concerned residents searching for a safe solution to this issue. “It’s really stressful,” she said. Claverie pointed out that the historic emergency route also cuts across her parents’ property, but that they have no problems with residents using it.

Duir believes that the Town needs to do something. They “need to build another road,” she said. Robinson would like to see a bridge built over the wash and has been in contact with Senator Kyrsten Sinema’s office looking for funds.

Robinson says he has approached South32 regarding funding construction of the bridge but has not yet received a response. In a recent interview with the PRT, Hermosa Project President Pat Risner denied any knowledge of the problem or of Robinson’s request for help with funding. “I’m not aware of the situation,” he said. “I’m not aware that we have been approached about a bridge.” Risner also denied that the dewatering plan at the Hermosa Project would increase the potential for Sonoita Creek flooding.

Even if the Town can secure funds to build a bridge across the wash, it would probably take two to three years to complete the project, leaving residents with no access to an emergency route in the interim.

“It is my hope that while the Town moves forward with plans to construct a bridge – a process that is likely to take years – we can come to some compromise that will temporarily allow access for residents through Mr. Hoeme’s property,” Fratello wrote, “though I am uncertain he will be amenable to that and understand that he is not obligated to do so.”

When asked what PVFR would do in an emergency situation, Chief Isakson responded, “We will cut locks, whatever we have to do if there’s an emergency on the other side of the creek… We can commandeer any property during an emergency. If they stopped us from reaching an emergency and something happened, they would be liable.”

Hoeme declined to comment for this article.