November 5, 2020
By Marion Vendituoli

More than 40 people attended an open house hosted by South32, held on the football field at PUHS on Oct. 20. Visitors were not permitted to film any of the open house and the press was only allowed to quote ‘designated spokespeople,’ not the presenters at each of the stations. The PRT was given permission to take photos at the event. 

One of the most visited stations at the South32 Open House focused on access routes, as many residents of eastern Santa Cruz County are distressed about the route that the mining company has proposed for moving equipment, ore and personnel between the Hermosa Mine on Harshaw Rd. and Tucson.

The proposed ‘Cross Creek Connector’ between Harshaw Rd. and SR 82 would skirt the town of Patagonia, crossing over 15 parcels of land recently purchased by South32. Some construction has already begun, although the presenter at this station emphasized that the company’s pre-feasibility study has once more been delayed, and that they would be revisiting all options. 

This was in contrast to the statement made at the open house by Pat Risner, President of the Hermosa Project that “this needs to be the initial route.” He did say that there could possibly be other routes developed later as mining operations proceeded. 

He pointed out that South32 had brought in experts to evaluate cultural and biological resources over the Cross Creek route. He also said that the company determined that the proposed route would result in less significant environmental disturbance than other routes that they looked at, and, because the road would be built entirely on private land, the company was not subject to any permitting requirements. 

The presenter at the resource monitoring station discussed mitigation efforts to minimize the effect of the Cross Creek Connector on wildlife along the route of the new road. The road would be built in an undeveloped area which is part of a major wildlife corridor between the Patagonia and Santa Rita Mountains. The presenter stated that the speed limit would be set at 35 mph and that the three bridges that would be constructed all met AZ Game and Fish criteria. She said that animals could avoid the road by passing under these bridges. She also said that they would be monitoring the situation and they could potentially install rumble strips to slow traffic down. 

According to Jenny Fiore, Communications Director for South32, “Modeling efforts by Northern 

Arizona University and the Arizona Game and Fish Department have located biologically-best corridors for wildlife movement between the Patagonia and Santa Rita Mountains at approximately 1.5 miles north and 1 mile south of the prospective route.” 

“They are correct that NAU and AZGF identified those two corridors,” local ecologist Ron Pulliam said, “but they [NAU and AZGF] also identified the swath of land alongside Sonoita Creek as part of that corridor. South32 is proposing to put a major industrial road right through that corridor.”

Objections to this route are not only focused on the creation of the connector road, but also on the increased traffic that would travel through Sonoita to Tucson. The presenter at the access routes station estimated that traffic from the mine would travel the roads during 16 hours per day, potentially doubling truck traffic on both SR 82 and SR 83, according to data collected by ADOT. 

Fiore responded to this by stating that this number of vehicles does not “represent average daily counts. Rather, they reflect peak total truck traffic (not just concentrate trucks) for Hermosa that might be experienced on a given day. Therefore, it would not be correct to infer an average hourly traffic volume from that range, especially with preliminary studies indicating that the truck traffic would hit such peak volumes only on rare occasions.”

Four other stations were set up around the field covering underground exploration, hydrology and dewatering, water treatment plant and discharges, and well monitoring and creek crossings 

South32 has announced that they will be holding a similar Open House at the Sonoita Fairgrounds on Nov. 16 from 4p.m. to 6p.m.