By Marion Vendituoli
Many residents of the Patagonia area are concerned by the recent acquisition of properties by Arizona Minerals, Incorporated (AMI). AMI is a corporation registered in the U.S. and owned by South32, an Australian based mining company developing the Hermosa Mine project near the town of Patagonia. South32 is not registered as a U.S. corporation.
AMI has purchased the 164-acre Tree of Life property on the south side of Harshaw Rd just outside Patagonia town limits, for $2,000,000, according to county records.
The property might be used by the mining company for storage or for a park and ride site for employees. It is even possible that exploratory drilling could take place along the south property line that abuts unpatented mining claims held by AMI, but Greg Lucero, Vice President for Corporate Affairs for South32 said, “I want to make it clear that is nothing I foresee.” “We’re looking at all the options.”
Santa Cruz County Supervisor Bruce Bracker confirmed that AMI had offered a portion of the property to the county for a park. “It’s just a proposal. There has been no formal discussion,” he said.
Because the Tree of Life property is outside town limits and thus under the governance of the county, South32 is not restricted by any zoning requirements, according to Mary Dahl, interim Community Development Director for Santa Cruz County. “Mine land uses are exempt from local control,” she said recently.
ARS 11-812, which places a restriction on regulation by counties on mining activities, states that the county cannot “prevent, restrict or otherwise regulate the use or occupation of land or improvements” for mining companies. “For decades these industries have enjoyed relief from local zoning control because of their importance to the economy of the state,” Dahl said.
County Manager Jennifer St. John would like the county to have more input in the process, saying “Our governor is very friendly towards mines and local government should have a seat at the table to try to do what’s best for the community.”
Several parcels north of Harshaw Rd. have also been acquired, including 20 acres to the west of Red Rock Ave., 7.58 acres that were part of the Tree of Life property, 80 acres accessed from Cross Creek Rd, which sold for $480,840 and 6.92 acres with frontage on Hwy 82 south of Rail X Ranch property, which sold for S199,000.
A property at the north end of Harshaw Ct. is under contract at this point, but Lucero could not confirm whether that piece, or any others, were under contract with AMI at this point. He did indicate that South32 will continue to purchase properties in the area. “There’s going to be other land acquisitions that are going to be notable,” he said. “Even strong opponents [to the mine] are coming to us and saying, ‘Would you buy?’” One possible use of South32’s land acquisitions could be as part of any mitigation required if and when the mine had to undergo the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) review process. Because all exploratory activity at present is being conducted on private land, the company has not had to undergo the NEPA process at this point. The properties located north of Harshaw Rd, while not all contiguous, could be part of a potential route for access to Hwy 82 without passing through the town of Patagonia if additional property is acquired.
If South32 decided to put in a private road, if these additional properties were acquired, there would be “no approval process from a land use standpoint,” necessary from the county according to Dahl, though there might be some flood control issues. South32 would need ADOT approval to access the highway. If South32 chose to build a public road, they would need approval from the County Board of Supervisors, she said.
South32 has acquired at least ten properties in the Flux Canyon Rd. area and has also looked at Duquesne Rd as a possible route for mine workers and ore trucks.
According to Lucero, the ore trucks from the mine will be carrying either a powdery dust of zinc or lead concentrate to be delivered to smelters. He could not predict how many trucks would be traveling through the county but said that the biggest impact on area roads would be during the construction phase of the operation when the mine would be employing 2000 workers.
Many residents feel powerless in the face of these land sales. “The mine’s going to do what it is going to do,” Cassina Farley said. “It’s a helpless feeling to know that they’re going to buy what they want to buy, and people are going to sell what they’re going to sell. There’s nothing we can do about it.” Robert Gay, of Patagonia, however, pointed out that there is a determined group of residents working with the Patagonia Area Resources Alliance (PARA) who “are determined to work on continued resistance to the industrialization of the town.”