The Planning and Development Committee of Patagonia had an open hearing on March 27 to discuss the Use Permit application from South32 to build a 3.9 acre parking lot and staging area off Harshaw Rd. on their 29 acre property on Red Rock Avenue.

Around 60 people attending the open hearing held by committee members Gary Rutherford, Todd Norton, Susan Lange, Melissa Murietta, and David Budd (chairman). Overall, the audience was united in its disapproval of the use permit application.

Budd explained that there is “flexibility and accommodation with use permits,” but the town “has asked use permits to go back to the drawing board,” when necessary, said Budd. The committee will meet on April 2 at 7 pm for further discussion of the permit. They will then forward their recommendations to the Town Council. On April 10th, the Town Council will have an open hearing regarding this use permit application.

Denise Bowden, office manager of South32, began the presentation. In attendance from South 32 was civil engineer Raul Pina, and Greg Lucero, the VP of Corporate Affairs. Bowden explained that right now parking for employees is in a leased lot in a congested area. The company wants to move the parking away from traffic and the town. The benefits would be to free up space in town, create a safe zone with a security guard and also create a staging area for large trucks who are either delivering goods or need to be escorted up to the mine.

Pina further expanded on the use permit. He said approximately 200 cars and about 5 large trucks (in the staging area) could be accommodated in the lot. There would also be bathrooms for the employees. The sewage would be managed by a professional sewage company and the property will not use the town’s water or sewer services. Pina claimed that the land would be improved by better drainage and mitigating the land adequately. There will be a fence around the property so that you could not see inside.

The lighting would be in a shoebox, with soft yellow LED light, following friendly skies requirements. They would also lower the lights at night.  The facility would be used 24/7, as the employees have 2 shifts, and there will be 24/7 security with a guard shack on the premises.

Rutherford asked if it were possible to have this property without any lighting at night because this is a community that likes its dark skies, and people move here for that. Rutherford also asked if the mine has checked with the local electrical company about the availability of power for a large property. Pina said he would think about how to work with no lights at night, but did not have any conclusive answer on that request. He confirmed that there is enough power available for the parking lot.

When residents asked about future plans for the land, Pina said this plan is just for current needs of the mine, not future needs. The mine representatives reiterated that this activity is already going on, and this application is to move it to another area. Pina claimed that they would work with traffic experts to create a continuous left lane to have the least impact on traffic. Pina said that they picked the area that they want to build on to have the least impact on neighbors. Many audience members disagreed.

When asked about the staging area, the audience discussed the noise of trucks delivering at all hours of day and night. Pina answered that there will be noise from the trucks. He stated that the trucks will not be delivering any hazardous materials and that the trucks would have things like tires, culverts and office supplies.

Ron Pulliam, of Patagonia, commented that many people in town do not believe that the mining activity is inevitable. Instead, Pulliam said, that residents are cultivating an economy tied to protecting natural resources.

Chuck Klingenstein, who lives up at the Mesa, quoted from many places in the Town Plan which indicated that any large industrial use of land would not fit with the Town Plan. Klingenstein also mentioned the bylaw that if a use permit application is on more than 4 acres it triggers a town plan amendment process, which this use permit avoids by proposing building on 3.9 acres.

Robert Gay, of Patagonia, commented that in the use permit application it is stated there is no current use of the land, which is inaccurate as the land is currently used by the Nature Conservancy. He also submitted documents showing that in fact the actual total area of building exceeds 4 acres.

Audience members commented on the location of the Arizona Trail in relation to the proposed site, and the impact on hikers walking on Harshaw Rd.

Janice Pulliam commented that the current mining activity has affected a lot of people and many have decided to move away.

The audience also shared concerns about the Truck Ordinance and the eventual need for the mine to move its ore out. Lucero said that the mine is looking for an access road in and out of the mine but has not found it yet. He also reported that the CEO has said that they have to find a way to do this without going through town. In this discussion Lucero did not confirm or deny any possible routes.