Approximately 50 people attended the Coronado National Forest Service (CNF) “Public Scoping Open House” at Patagonia Union High School on Sept. 4. This open house marked the beginning of the Public Scoping phase of the Environmental Assessment (EA) for the Sunnyside Exploratory Drilling (SED) Project proposed by Arizona Standard. The project site is in the Patagonia Mountains in the vicinity of Flux Canyon.
The public scoping period will last for 45 days (Oct. 21, 2019), and is the first opportunity for the public to comment on the project. The EA process will provide two more opportunities for the public to comment after the FS releases its Draft EA and again after the Draft Decision Notice.
The EA is a review by the FS which either leads to a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) or if significant environmental impact is likely then an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). An EIS is a comparatively more thorough analysis, especially looking at the “cumulative effects” of the proposal.
The SED project proposal includes creating up to 30 constructed drill sites within three drilling areas on CNF land resulting in a disturbance of 11.55 acres of land. No more than two drill pads at a time will be active. Drilling would occur 24/7 requiring approximately 36 people per day for up to seven years.
The SED project would need to make improvements to approximately 7.8 miles of Forest Service roads, and 0.81 miles of new temporary low standard non-system access roads. There would be a sign warning visitors of heavy equipment use posted at both ends of the drill site as well as a safety fence to separate the site from where roads are not closed. For safety, public access to drill sites would be limited through one or more locked gates.
The SED project would use up to 12,500 gallons of water per day per drill rig when drilling and an additional 2000 gallons on dust control for access roads. The SED project would transport water from Nogales, Santa Cruz County, and Sonoita to five reserve tanks at each of the two laydown yards.
Greg Oleson, a hydrologist with the CNF, said that the water underground is already contaminated from the natural mineral presence and historic mining. The FS has required that the SED bring in clean drinking water to use for its project. Rick Trotman, the President of Arizona Standard said, “The basic premise of our program is that the water that returns to the surface will be stored in plastic-lined sumps and will be re-used until the drilling is complete on that particular drill-site. Once activity at a drill-site is complete, the water will be left to evaporate, at which time we’ll remove the sediment and rock chips that are left within the plastic liner and dispose of them at the appropriate off-site facility.”
John Kraft, a biological resources officer with CNF, said that there are four known endangered species in this area of the National Forest, the Mexican spotted owl, the jaguar, the ocelot and the western yellow-billed cuckoo, though they may not be the only species affected by the proposed action in the area. When asked about mining actions on private lands neighboring the SED proposal, Kraft said this would be reviewed under “cumulative effects analysis.”
Nina Rogers, an archeologist with the CNF, said that the chances of discovering any prehistoric artifacts on this land are low. The chances for historical findings are higher. However, as there is a history of mining in that area the conditions of the cultural resources may be poor.
CNF officials claimed that, besides recreational driving, sightseeing and hunting, there are no other significant recreational activities in the area.
Jean Miller, who lives in Flux Canyon, said she was struck by the amount of people at the open house and the importance of the issue. Her biggest concerns are the impacts on water, noise and traffic from the proposed activity. Miller said it is difficult to know which roads they will be using because most of the roads around her house are not signed.
Leslie Schupp, another Flux Canyon resident who attended the open house said her main concerns are traffic, noise, pollution and impact on wildlife. She regularly sees wildlife in her neighborhood and is fearful that they will be impacted by the drilling activity. She also mentioned that the Forest Service did not answer her questions about the road use adequately and her biggest takeaway was that they “don’t really know what they are doing.”