South32 has announced their potential transportation route for their ore trucks, running 16 hours per day, using SR 82 from Patagonia to Sonoita and down SR 83 to I-10 and to a rail yard on Kolb Road and return. This will devastate our local communities’ businesses and property owners, not to mention our environment and life as we know it. Imagine, a trip to a doctor’s appointment in Tucson, or shopping at Costco, traffic to access our Rodeo and Fairgrounds events, and our winetasting tourists up and down SR 83. 

The South32 Open House scheduled for November 16 at the Fairgrounds to address concerns of the Sonoita and Elgin communities was cancelled by the mine for fear that COVID-19 posed too great of a public health risk. Really? The event was scheduled for outdoors, our businesses are open, our school is conducting classroom learning, masks are mandated by the county, and I am not seeing the “great” risk but I am sensing complete avoidance in interacting with our community.

Even worse, on Nov. 10, the SCC Board of Supervisors unanimously voted to sign a Memorandum of Understanding developed by Arizona Minerals, Inc., a subsidiary of South32, disregarding concerns from Patagonia residents. Carolyn Shafer, of PARA, stated that the MOU appeared to give tacit approval of the mine and neglected to address serious environmental threats and other impacts. The eight-page MOU also identifies County Manager Jennifer St. John as the POC for the County for future communications. 

The MOU states, “Whereas the parties intend for this MOU to help ensure mutually beneficial outcomes for the County and AMI…” Wow, does that sound like a done deal to you? I can see the Supervisors rubbing their hands together, excited by what may be in it for them, but my experience with the County makes me very doubtful they will even consider the concerns of our local communities.

So, the mine backed out of talking directly to Sonoita and Elgin residents and business owners, and now the burden has shifted with the MOU to St. John and the Board of Supervisors. Face it, our County is neither transparent nor collaborative in dealing with the “red-headed-step-children” east of the Santa Ritas. 

So, we need a call to action! There is a provision in the MOU with respect to community outreach. “The County Board of Supervisors may elect to engage outside consultants and designate an advisory board to facilitate community outreach.” For our voices to be heard by the mine AND the county, and to keep informed on proposals and actions by the mine and the county, we need this to happen. I encourage everyone to contact Jennifer St. John at jstjohn@santacruzcountyaz.gov and Bruce Bracker at bbracker@santacruzcounty.gov soonest to get this in place.