The town council’s working meeting on September 11 opened with discussion of two agenda items—the town’s purchasing procedures, and oversight on the excavation of the Sonoita Creek bed. Vice Mayor Andy Wood introduced the topic of purchasing procedures in a followup to her request at the previous meeting that it be put on the agenda, and she questioned the town’s level of transparency and due process in regard to its business transactions. Council Member Meg Gilbert initiated discussion regarding digging out of the creek bed. Both events had been brought to their attention by local resident Carolyn Shafer, following her review of the town’s records. Shafer had noted that an emergency repair of the town’s water system was not billed by the contractor, D&M Engineering. Excavation of the part of Sonoita Creek that runs through town, also conducted by D&M Engineering last December, was done without charge in exchange for the excavated gravel. Neither of these jobs appeared to have gone through the proper procedural channels.
Mayor Ike Isaacson explained that those instances were emergencies and didn’t require normal procedures, but Gilbert and Wood argued that any work done during an emergency, while not requiring full council approval, should always have a receipt and go through proper accounting managerial channels. Town Manager David Teel agreed that there had not been enough oversight. All agreed that similar matters would follow established procedures in the future.
The removal of gravel from the stream bed raised another set of questions. Jack Holder and Susan Belt, who live next to Sonoita Creek, asked if there had been an engineer’s report prior to deepening the wash. Mayor Isaacson and council member Gilbert Quiroga pointed out that the town had done this excavation every few years for quite some time and that, in the past, the town had to pay for it.
Councilor Gilbert noted that there were people in the audience who knew quite a bit about stream erosion, flood control, and water harvesting. Ron Pulliam, founder of Borderlands Restoration and Regents Professor Emeritus at the University of Georgia, was asked to speak and said that there were no easy answers to the problems of erosion and flood control, but that we “should think of the creek holistically.” He said Borderlands has received a half-million dollar grant to determine whether there are economical methods for decreasing erosion, increasing infiltration rates, and, ultimately, recharging the aquifer and increasing stream flow in the Babocomari River, which is part of the San Pedro watershed. He added that there are more grants of this kind available and introduced David Seibert, who is executive director of Borderlands and is working at the Babocomari River site. Seibert spoke about the land we have inherited and the need to restore it. He pointed out that the watershed is far bigger than Patagonia and that everything done affects not only the water but wildlife and plant life. Everyone listened attentively to him and to the following speaker, Kate Tirion, who owns Deep Dirt Farm, which is involved in the same kind of work. Tirion offered to host a tour for the council members to demonstrate a method of creek bed work that provides flood control, erosion control, and water retention.
The question concerning legal ownership of the creek bed was raised by Jack Holder and evoked comment from Luke Reese, the new manager of the Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve. Reese acknowledged that the town has an easement over that portion of the creek bed, which is owned by The Nature Conservancy. He voiced his interest in working with the town on behalf of these concerns.
At that point Mayor Isaacson said, “Maybe we need a committee—to make this a positive opportunity.” Town Manager Teel was asked to set up a meeting. There was a clear interest in coordinating the knowledge and resources of the experts who live here in Patagonia. Isaacson said that the council’s job was to protect and improve Patagonia, implying that this would be a good direction to take.