April 1, 2022
By Kat Crockett and Marion Vendituoli

There was standing room only at the two hour study session held by the Santa Cruz County (SCC) Board of Supervisors on March 30 at the County Complex to discuss the draft agreement between Arizona Minerals Inc (AMI), owned by South32, and the County, which, if accepted, would have AMI donate 134 acres of property while retaining the right to construct the Cross Creek Connector (CCC) on that property to give the mining company a route between Harshaw Rd. and SR 82. 

The meeting began with a presentation by Melanie Lawson, South32’s Community Specialist. The goal of the project, according to her power point presentation is “To move product to market with minimal impact to local communities.” Lawson stated that the mining company “ wanted to do so by avoiding Patagonia and minimize the impact to the community.” 

At their recent open house, however, the PRT was told by Raul Pina, a consultant engineer for South32, that they were looking at sending half the trucks through Patagonia to Nogales via SR82. Lawson stated that the number of trucks would initially be 30 trucks per day, increasing to 80. However, this number reflects only one-way trips, while most trucks will be going round trip, possibly doubling this number. The number also does not reflect all the other mine related vehicles that will be using this proposed route. There was no discussion at the study session of the effect of this increase in traffic on residents, businesses, and visitors in Eastern SCC traveling to and from Tucson. 

More than 20 members of the audience, both in person and by zoom, addressed the Supervisors. All those who spoke in favor of the project, none of whom were residents of Eastern Santa County, praised South32’s generosity towards local charities. None of them spoke about the proposed land donation and road construction agreement specifically. The consensus seemed to be that they all felt that South32 should be able to do whatever they wanted because they had done good things in the County.

The majority of speakers opposed the Supervisors acting on this agreement. It was pointed out that the agenda posted to the County’s website ambiguously read “Presentation regarding a proposed land donation from AMI  to SCC for the purpose of providing a public park.” Ron Pulliam, of Patagonia, told the supervisors, “This is not a proposal about a park, this is a proposal on an industrial road.” 

Many people expressed concern about the rush to move this decision forward. Lynn Davison asked the supervisors, “Why do you need to act now? There are many unanswered questions. Get the information you need before you make your decisions.” 

Chuck Klingenstein, of Patagonia, discussed the need for a detailed transportation plan. “How can you evaluate the safety consequences of the road without first having a detailed transportation plan from South32 detailing all users of the proposed road, types of trucks, buses and cars, the daily numbers and trip generation numbers?”

One member of the audience questioned the need to act hastily on this agreement. “I cannot believe we are rushing to make an uninformed decision about a park that will not be viable for 30 or more years.”

David Robinson, from the Tucson Audubon Society (TAS) that owns the Paton Center in Patagonia, stated, “I am concerned about the rush to move this decision forward without scientific data, and so far I have heard no compelling argument to support moving this forward.” “TAS is perplexed by and concerned about the Supervisors’ rush to move this land donation forward prior to having the scientific data necessary to understand and then prevent and/or mitigate the likely environmental imacts of the proposed road on the city and county’s water, and the habitats and humans that depend on that water.”

There were several complaints about the County releasing the Draft Cooperative Agreement after 5:00 p.m. the evening before the meeting, leaving little time for participants to examine the 26 page document prior to the study session. Also, the presentation by the mine on truck routes was not mentioned in the agenda, but became the lead subject presented by the mine. 

The CCC route is touted as “temporary” by South32, although, in the proposed agreement, AMI has the right to use the route for 30 years, with the possibility of further ten year extensions. They hope to gain approval to use Flux Canyon Rd., south of Patagonia, to move their concentrate in the future. As this route will require approval by the Forest Service, they will have to complete the lengthy NEPA process. There is no guarantee that the CCC route will not become their permanent route.

Supervisor Bruce Bracker supported more community meetings and discussion. Supervisor Rudy Molero commented that he was pleased with the process. Board Chairman Manuel Ruiz said the County and South32 had been working on this issue for a long time, but he neglected to mention that this is the first time the public was invited to participate.