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Santa Cruz to address mining companies bearing a gift as opposition mounts over silence

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The Tucson agenda

Santa Cruz to address mining companies bearing a gift as opposition mounts over silence

  • The town of Sahuarita will be losing one tenant and gaining another at its advanced manufacturing site, while Santa Cruz County wrestles with an offer from a mining company.
    Sahuarita SunThe town of Sahuarita will be losing one tenant and gaining another at its advanced manufacturing site, while Santa Cruz County wrestles with an offer from a mining company.

City and town councils tend to meet on the first and third weeks of the month. School boards like to set their meetings on the second and sometimes fourth weeks.

Next week is the fifth in the month of March.

We've only got two meetings to take an advance look at as March goes out like a lamb.

So, here goes one of my shortest columns ever (this one is for you, Steve Christy):

The Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors will hold a kind of special work session to hear a presentation by Arizona Minerals Inc., (a.k.a., South32), who want to turn over to the county 134 acres near Patagonia for the purposes of building a nature park. In return, the mining company wants an access road.

South32, an Australian mining outfit, owns the "Taylor deposit" in the Patagonia Mountains and has plans to extract 4.3 million tons of zinc, lead and silver over a 22-year span from from the start of operations.

The basics of the deal seem pretty straight up but it's caught up in mine politics, which are never pretty. Some in Santa Cruz County aren't happy with the limited information associated with the deal.

County leaders haven't had a lot to say about the details. Often land deals prompt silence from local governments. That's only important when talking what a county or town, for instance, are willing to pay. It's not as paramount when the question is "if they'll take" the land.

Now, people with concerns about the access road are doubly piqued about the what seems like a "hush-hush" back-room deal.

On the one hand, all deals are back-room and follow closed-door negotiations. On the other hand, putting a chokehold on information never makes a controversy go away.

Just get the information out there. It's why I repeatedly cuff local governments for getting agendas out late and not including enough background material.

Even if it's not bad, it looks bad. 

Santa Cruz County swears up and down that all information related to the deal will be made public (hopefully during the work session) and it's all public record, so it's all going come out.

Take Sahuarita as a paragon of transparency. The agenda packet posted for the Town Council's meeting boasts more than 1,866 pages for the public to read. I didn't realize Sahuarita even had 1,800 pieces of paper.

It's almost obnoxious how this agenda material became my Friday afternoon, evening and night. However, no one can say the town is playing coy.

Anyway, Sahuarita looks like it will lose one tenant at the town-owned advanced manufacturing center but will gain another. 

Saguaro Solar Inc., a Tucson-based solar panel contractor, has been hit hard by the supply chain crisis in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. The town staff and the business' leadership team reached the conclusion that it can't finish building out at Sahuarita Advanced Manufacturing Center.

The Town Council will be voting on terminating the company's lease at the site.

However, the council members will vote to welcome another tenant to the site, Steel Jupiter. No, they didn't open for Iron Maiden at the TCC in 1985. They are a Pennsylvania manufacturing firm looking to set up an advanced coating operation in Sahuarita.

That'll be just 15 jobs at full build out but the average salary will be more than $90,000 a year. Saguaro Solar gave the town no such guarantees as part of their lease.

The town will kick in $325,000 for on site improvements as part of the deal.

The council also has an agenda item to invest another $1.5 million into the facility, which now has just 5,000 square feet of available space left.

The council will also vote on contracts with the state of Arizona and U.S. Department of Homeland Security to take part in Operation Stonegarden. Town police will assist federal agents in enforcement operations by initiating contacts to enforce state law, which federal agents are barred from conducting.

The grants are for $350,000 for maintenance, equipment and overtime pay. Pima County and the city of Tucson have declined to take part in the federal program, starting in the Trump era.

Sitting as the Rancho Sahuarita Facilities District Board, the council will discuss future investment into the parts of the town the district covers. 

The idea is target growth by having the town do land development and then pay for the growth by taxing the homes and businesses within the district. It's a plan to get growth to pay for itself.

The heart of the action they will take on Monday is some of the finest Bureaucratese this reporter has read in a long time:

 "... approving a feasibility report which includes identifying the public infrastructure of the projects, the areas benefited or to be benefited, the expected  method of financing and the system of providing revenues to operate and maintain the projects, including the nature and timing of the issuance of the bonds, all as provided in such report, authorizing the sale and issuance of general obligation bonds ..."

A hootenanny. 

Sounds like a great first date for spring love birds, huh?

It means the town staff wants the council to sign off on a plan to build stuff and pay for it. The staff can't reach 1,800 pages of tight writing, now, can they?

Blake Morlock is an award-winning columnist, who worked in daily journalism for nearly 20 years and is the former communications director for the Pima County Democratic Party.

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