Representatives of South32, and its subsidiary Arizona Mining Inc (AMI), responded to a list of 32 questions submitted by a group of 15 residents, including this reporter, concerning the proposed construction of a road on land that the mining company is donating to Santa Cruz County. The Cross Creek Connector (CCC) is touted by South32 as a temporary route for moving mineral concentrate from the Hermosa project on Harshaw Rd. to SR82. 

The questions fell into four general areas: 

1. The road: How many trips per day not only of large tractor trailers containing mineral concentrate, but also of other vehicles containing supplies, equipment, and staff during construction and operation phases? 

2. The donation of land to Santa Cruz County by South32 that includes retention of an easement on that land to build the temporary CCC Road: What is the definition of temporary for the road easement retained by South32? What happens if South32 is unable to build the permanent road? Would the CCC then become the permanent route? 

3. Safety concerns: Harshaw Road is heavily used by residents, visitors, livestock haulers, pedestrians, hikers (e.g., on the Arizona Trail), and cyclists. How does South32 propose to mitigate the safety risks? 

4. Impacts on private landowners near the CCC: How would dust, noise, and light pollution be mitigated for homeowners and businesses proximate to the proposed CCC road? How will these property owners have safe access to the CCC road? 

The group, which had submitted the questions on March 21, acknowledged South32’s timely response, but noted that 18 of the 32 answers consisted of promises made by South32, some of which could be incorporated into requirements of permits from the County and State, and others which rely only on South32’s word to fulfill them. “In all of these examples, it will be critical for community members to monitor South32’s performance closely,” Ann Gosline, of Patagonia, said. Greg Gorton, whose property abuts the proposed route, noted that “the problematic track record of South32’s performance with their mines in other locations does not inspire confidence.” 

Of particular interest were two permits that AMI will have to apply for: the Right of Way Permit from the county for access to Harshaw Road; and the ADOT encroachment permit for access to SR82. 

At issue in both these cases will be traffic backups, effects on other businesses and tourism, danger to wildlife passing through established wildlife corridors, degradation of the area designated a special scenic highway, and safety risks for drivers, pedestrians, and bicyclists. Valerie Neale, who lives near the proposed route, was particularly concerned about the connection to Harshaw Road, the small crescent of county-owned land that must be considered in the permit process, and the difficulty in designing anything in the proposed configuration that could be safe. 

There were several answers in the response from South32 that caused concern to the authors of the March 21 letter. When asked for a definition of temporary road for the CCC, South 32 said the agreement with the County states the easement will terminate 24 months after receiving permits to build a permanent road across National Forest Service land. 

When asked why they would choose to donate land and retain an easement rather than just building the road on the private land, South 32 said the proposed land transfer and park dedication “uphold our commitment to the Cross Creek area road being temporary.” Gosline commented, however, that the agreement with the county keeps the easement in place for up to 30 years, with the option for an unlimited number of 10-year extensions if a permit for an alternative permanent route is not granted.

When asked about the impacts of an industrial Road operating 24/7 with the incumbent noise, dust, traffic on the property values of nearby property owners, South32 said “we will work with the county and ADOT to meet all requirements for intersections. The land transfer and assurance of open space or a natural recreation park provide certainty for adjacent residential property owners.” “What certainty?” asked Gorton. “South 2 just plain did not answer the question. What you might infer is they don’t see lost property values as their problem. Whose problem is it then, the county’s?” 

When asked how the significant increase in traffic on Harshaw SR82 and SR 83 would impact travel times for drivers on these two-lane roads, South32 answered that they projected only a 4% increase in traffic averaged over a 24 hour period caused by the trucks moving ore. Noden noted that the full pre-feasibility study, where this data is found, has not been released to the public. However, the 4% appears only includes trucks travelling one way carrying ore concentrate, which would be a fraction of the many vehicles containing employees, fuel, infrastructure, and equipment that would have to cross the CCC to connect Harshaw Road to SR 82 and 83.

The answers supplied by South32 did not satisfactorily answer the questions raised, according to Chuck Klingenstein, of Patagonia.

“We both know more about the plans for the CCC road due to South32’s answers to our questions and we know less because so many of those answers were promises and moving targets based on future plans, studies, permits, management decisions,” he said. “Without dogged community monitoring, the Hermosa Mine’s impacts on our communities will be unknown until it’s too late to prevent them. We need more community members who have similar concerns to join us in engaging on these issues with South32 and with Santa Cruz County now. We need to ask the hard questions, and insist on the hard data behind South 32’s promises.”

To read the full letter to South 32 and their response, visit https://patagoniaregionaltimes.org/letter-to-south32/