The County Board of Supervisors was faced with a couple of displeased Patagonia residents during their Tuesday meeting, when they unanimously approved an agreement with Arizona Minerals, Inc., a subsidiary of Australian mining company South32.
The memorandum of understanding contains largely vague statements about how the county and the company will cooperate as AMI/South32 continues work on the Hermosa Project in the Patagonia Mountains, a site that it’s planning to turn into a silver-lead-zinc mine.
“The County and AMI will seek to collaborate, work together, and learn from each other to understand their respective responsibilities and achieve their respective objectives,” states one clause under the header “Collaboration and Planning.”
Pat Risner, president of the Hermosa Project, said during Tuesday’s meeting: “The MOU really just formalizes that ongoing commitment to share information transparently.”
“I do want to be clear that the agreement is not the county approving the Hermosa Project. That’s not the intent, that’s not what it says if you read it,” he added.
But some Patagonia residents asked the board to reject the agreement, unhappy about the amount of support that the agreement implies for the company’s operations in the eastern county, which they believe pose larger environmental threats that aren’t being spoken enough about.
Carolyn Shafer of the Patagonia Area Resource Alliance, said that even though the county gave only a few days’ notice of the upcoming decision, she was able to gather a group of local citizens to call the supervisors and voice their concerns the day before the Tuesday meeting.
“You have heard significant concerns about the need to talk about the air, the water and the wildlife at the same time we talk about jobs and the economy,” she said during the call to the public. “This memorandum of understanding gives tacit approval of the project without fully understanding the impacts.”
She further requested that the county open a platform in which residents can voice their concerns regarding the Hermosa Project, and engage with county officials to find better solutions.
For his part, Risner said that South32 has already hosted recent meetings for public discussion, as well as held informational presentations at local government meetings at the county and the Town of Patagonia.
He added that part of the agreement also included South32 providing support to Santa Cruz County communities.
“We will continue the extensive support that we’ve provided on education programs, scholarships, nonprofit support through our foundation… and more recently, we’ve provided special support for COVID relief,” Risner said.
Patagonia resident Robert Jacobson, however, was not convinced by the message behind that community support.
He said that the company's operations in the Patagonia Mountains will earn South32 billions of dollars, while the Town of Patagonia will mainly see negative secondhand effects.
“According to the documents that the county presented, we get a charity. A charity to support nonprofits in Santa Cruz County,” Jacobson said, referring to the MOU. “The mine itself is going to create certain costs for our community that’ll be quite high, particularly in terms of traffic through the town and other impositions.”
He added that while the mining company has helped some areas of the community, it still refused to provide the more substantial support to eastern county residents of obtaining more reliable internet service by using the South32-owned fiber broadband connection.
“It seems to me that there’s some kind of mixed generosity here,” he said.
A few minutes after listening to the calls to the public, the board went into executive session to discuss the topic for about 10 minutes.
Upon returning, Supervisor Bruce Bracker made an amendment to the agreement, clarifying that the county wanted to “ensure the conservation of land and water stewardship,” in relation to the Arizona Minerals, Inc. projects.
To view a copy of the MOU, click on the Nov. 10 meeting agenda on santacruzcountyaz.gov/AgendaCenter.