PATAGONIA, Ariz. (KVOA) - Ken Morrow loves his charming, small, quiet community of Patagonia. He enjoys seeing how popular it has become for visitors, but he has noticed another not so pleasant guest.
“We have plenty of heavy trucks coming through," Morrow said.
He is worried seeing more and more commercial trucks in the area driving on highway 82 and coming and going to scenic highway 83.
Highway 83 is considered by many to be one of Arizona's most beautiful drives.
Morrow worries the combination of sight seers, bicyclists, recreational vehicles and all the trucks is too much.
“With all of the passenger vehicles we now have here in town and the commercial trucking it’s a lot for this small older highway to handle," he said.
He told the News 4 Tucson Investigators a lot of trucks are going to and from the Hermosa mine up in the Patagonia mountains, it’s been a controversial project in the area operated by an Australian company South32, that will be mining various minerals some used for electric vehicles. It’s not yet fully operational, production only expected to ramp up in the coming years.
“This is all a big ramping up to eventual full production which will involve one ore truck on average every 15 minutes rolling up highway 82 on to 83 towards Tucson," he explained.
Doctor Marion Sears lives in Sonoita part time, splitting time between the area and Maine. He believes all the traffic on the highways is a recipe for disaster.
“Those highways need to be managed better, there’s certainly going to be something you get to report on that’s not so good like you did before if we don’t manage scenic highways better," Dr. Sears said.
He was referring to a violent semi-truck crash a few weeks ago on Interstate 10 east of Tucson that left the driver dead and caused a hazardous material scare. It forced several local communities to be evacuated and shutdown the interstate for more than 24 hours.
Dr. Sears said he fears that as the mine ramps up production there could be hazardous material hauled to and from the mine, he worries what would happen if there was a crash.
“There’s no question it will happen, something will happen because those roads are not designed for this," he said.
Santa Cruz County Public Works Director and Deputy County Manager Jesus Valdez said there’s little the County can do because the roads are handled by ADOT.
“It’s difficult right now to assess the impacts the mine traffic will have without a traffic analysis," Valdez said.
"Are you guys going to be doing a traffic analysis?” asked our Chief Investigative Reporter Chorus Nylander.
“It’s something South32 would have to do," Valdez responded.
ADOT tells the N4T Investigators that South32 would need to file a permit for access to a state highway, which requires a traffic analysis, so far, they haven’t filed for a permit.
The N4T Investigators reached out to South32 who sent us the following statement:
"No mining or mineral processing is currently taking place at Hermosa and only a limited number of trucks visit the site, in compliance with our traffic management plan and local regulations.
We continue to assess options for future designs and operations at Hermosa, including the potential use of battery-powered trucks to transport minerals from the site, reducing noise and emissions.
In coordination with Santa Cruz County officials, we plan to build a temporary access road outside Patagonia town limits, which will enable trucks to bypass Patagonia while travelling to and from our site.
Subject to relevant approvals, we expect to build a permanent access road to our site in the future that would not only enable trucks to bypass Patagonia but also significantly reduce trucks on State Routes 82 and 83.
We are working closely with an independent community advisory panel, local officials, and other stakeholders to develop the project responsibly and in a way that benefits local communities now and for generations to come.
- The hazmat incident on Interstate 10 at Tucson in February was not related to Hermosa.
- With our current activities at Hermosa being restricted to construction and exploration, trucks visiting our site are primarily transporting equipment and fuel.
- We have strict protocols in place for the handling of hazmat materials at our site, and we require our transport affiliates to comply with government regulations and safety protocols related to hazmat transportation.
- Hermosa has the potential to sustainably produce minerals that are critical for the transition to a low carbon future, securing critical mineral supply chains for the North American market and delivering major new employment and investment for Southern Arizona."
For Ken Morrow he just hopes his piece of paradise keeps its charm.
“We don’t mind if it’s busy but let's keep it safe and all work together," he said.
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