Tempers ran high at an open house hosted by South32 at the Rio Rico High School on August 17. After repeated interruptions from audience members, Hermosa Project President Pat Risner left the stage abruptly, in spite of the fact that he tried to keep his remarks focused on the potential benefits that the Hermosa project would bring to the community. Hermosa’s parent company, South32, is developing manganese and zinc mines in the Patagonia Mountains in eastern Santa Cruz County.
The majority of the approximately 50 people who attended the open house, however, did not seem receptive to Risner’s remarks and expressed their concerns about the environmental consequences of the mine, many wearing T-shirts and carrying signs opposed to the project.
Although opposition to mining in the Patagonia Mountains has been active in eastern Santa Cruz County over the last several years, residents in Rio Rico began to voice their concerns in June after plans to develop land along I-19 were proposed by a local businessman. Many residents became alarmed at the possibility that South32 might build a manganese processing facility along the Santa Cruz River.
At the open house, Risner denied that South32 had any plans to build a processing facility in Rio Rico. “I’m going to lay to rest once and for all some of the concerns we’ve heard about that, about our plans, and that we have plans to place a facility in Rio Rico,” Risner said. “We have no plans to place that facility in Rio Rico. That rumor is categorically false. We have no plans to place the manganese production facility in Rio Rico.” Risner continued by telling the group, “We will not be conducting mining or mining activities in Rio Rico and I apologize for any information, misinformation that’s been circulating around that.”
Risner’s statement did not satisfy many of the audience members, however. Less than two minutes into his presentation, members of the audience began raising signs protesting the project and demanding the company leave the county. Six minutes into the presentation, members of the audience started to heckle Risner, who left the stage less than nine minutes into his prepared speech.
Risner did address some concerns from attendees after his presentation. Hermosa Project Communications Spokesman Jenny Fiore-Magana announced at the open house that the company would consider suggestions from the crowd and plan for a future Q&A forum to continue the discussion.