RSSChats & Other Live Events

Live blog transcript: Patagonia Town Council meeting on proposed mine

Arizona Daily Star reporter Tony Davis blogged live from the Patagonia Town Council meeting as the proposed Wildcat Silver mine in the Patagonia Mountains was discussed Wednesday evening.

  • Greetings from the live blog. Tonight, I’m in Patagonia, where a large crowd is expected to pack a meeting room to debate the merits of the proposed Wildcat Silver Corp. silver mine up in the Patagonia Mountains. Look for a bruising, highly emotional debate over mining jobs versus tourism and the environment. A local contractor, Brent Bowden, has asked the Town Council to support what he says is a hydrology study being done by the Forest Service about the impacts of the mine. He says he's taking no stand for or against the mine; just a study of it. Nevertheless, the utility room at PatagoniaUnion High School is slowly filling as the start of the council meeting approaches. Supporters of the mine are wearing t-shirts proclaiming that "we dig jobs," but opponents also are out in full force.

    The issues are many and detailed—water supply, water quality, habitat, endangered species, quality of life and economics. The Canadian-based Wildcat Silver is preparing to embark on a major drilling program and is seeking Forest Service approval of drilling 48 new boreholes for various exploration purposes, including but hardly limited to better defining the available silver deposits, reputed by the company to be one of the 10 largest of its kind in the world. The non-profit watchdog Patagonia Area Resource Alliance is prepared to fight the drilling tooth and nail, and has already said it wants a full-fledged environmental impact statement on the drilling, rather than the more routine environmental assessment that the Forest Service has said it is likely to do.
    So here goes the debate.
  • Greetings from the live blog. Tonight, I’m in Patagonia, where a large crowd is expected to pack the high school gymnasium to debate the merits of the proposed Wildcat Silver Corp. silver mine up in the Patagonia Mountains. Look for a bruising, highly emotional debate over mining jobs versus tourism and the environment. A local contractor, Brent Bowden, has asked the Town Council to support what he says is a hydrology study being done by the Forest Service about the impacts of the mine. He says he's taking no stand for or against the mine; just a study of it. Nevertheless, the utility room at PatagoniaUnion High School is slowly filling as the start of the council meeting approaches. Supporters of the mine are wearing t-shirts proclaiming that "we dig jobs," but opponents also are out in full force.

    The issues are many and detailed—water supply, water quality, habitat, endangered species, quality of life and economics. The Canadian-based Wildcat Silver is preparing to embark on a major drilling program and is seeking Forest Service approval of drilling 48 new boreholes for various exploration purposes, including but hardly limited to better defining the available silver deposits, reputed by the company to be one of the 10 largest of its kind in the world. The non-profit watchdog Patagonia Area Resource Alliance is prepared to fight the drilling tooth and nail, and has already said it wants a full-fledged environmental impact statement on the drilling, rather than the more routine environmental assessment that the Forest Service has said it is likely to do.
    So here goes the debate.
  • Hey, my mistake. I thought the meeting was supposed to be at the high school gym. It's actually at a utility room, although there is a set of basketball backboards at either end of the room. Michael Stabile, of the PARA watchdog group, says he wants to see the study of the water supplies done. We don't know how much water is coming down Harshaw Creek, one of two main watersheds in this community, he says, but he says the water study is going to be pretty expensive, and that the Forest Service can't push the town into doing the kind of study Bowden says he wants to do.
  • It's going to be a few minutes before the mine issue comes up, folks. This is a regular Patagonia Town Council meeting, and the council has just approved the minutes of three previous meetings. Now, the council is taking public comments during the call to the public. Now, they're on staff reports on ongoing town activities. Meanwhile, easily 100 people are in the audience now, and most of the seats are filled. About 10 persons are sitting up on a stage, at the meeting room's rear. At the back of my mind as this meeting unfolds, of course, is the thought: Is this debate going to be as fierce and borderline toxic as it has been for Rosemont? Obviously, there won't be as many players and the scale of the project won't be the same, but the issues could easily prove as divisive as they are up in Tucson and its surroundings over the proposed copper mine in the Santa Ritas.
  • Michael Stabile, of the PARA alliance, is speaking as a planning and zoning spokesman, and he says that mining consumes a lot of water. The mine has grown from 3,000 to 7,000 acres, and "we just don't know how much water is in the watershed, and this proposal asks the Forest Service to do a water study under the town manager's control. The study would need to include flow rates out of Sonoita and Harshaw Creek and the town wash. There might be enough water for everybody but we just don't know that. If the study shows that after 5 years the town's wells could be compromised, once it's approved and is running, it can't be stopped, he said, so it's important to know that early on. The town is in a 10-year drought that's forecast to get worse, so the information, and he's asking that the council agree to do the study before any activities start in the mountains, Stabile. While the mining company will do a hydrological study, he notes that all the wells in their study immediately surround the mine, those wells would strictly monitoring wells and would do nothing for flow rate and what's in the watershed, he said. It's just not enough to give us the data that we need, he said.
  • A female councilwoman says one thing we can all agree on is that importance of the water, and that the town needs a water study, in which the town has input into the study. I think this is a really good thing to support, she says.
  • Vice Mayor Andra Wood says she agrees, and says this is an important and responsible act for the town to do. A motion is made is to adopt this as a resolution to amend the general plan, supporting the study. It passes, with one abstention.
  • Be patient, folks, the council is on agenda item 7, and the mine issue comes up on item 9.
  • PARA stands for Patagonia Area Resource Alliance, an activist-watchdog group that opposes the Wildcat Silver project, also known as the Hermosa project. Oops, they're also skipping item 9 and pushing it back to the end, to handle a few more routine items first. Three more items on the agenda now precede the mine discussion.
  • Now they're on the mine resolution, in favor of the Hermosa project. Vice Mayor Wood says it's up to the speakers to be responsible and polite, and "I don't want a bickering match."
  • Contractor Brent Bowden now has the floor. I'm a long term resident here, my family moved here in 1967, my father was a school teacher. I graduated from this high school, spent 5 years in the Navy, then came here. I have run the longest continually operated business in this town. I've always done my best to support this town. When available, I've always exclusively used the local work force. My men did grading work on parking lot you did today. I watched my workforce go from 46 employees to 10. In the real world, everyone wears different hats. I stand here as a businessman and local property owner. Sure I work for mining companies, but I'm not here as a company man tonight. I'm here to speak for myself and my family. Here, tonight, we're not here to decide whether to have a mine. I want to focus on one topic. We all need to know what effect this mine will have on our water supply. I'm here to support Arizona Minerals' plan of operations. It's a proposal to conduct a hydrology study. It's primarily focused on stability of soils, to see if any aspect of this operation might permeate and contaminate the groundwater. It's necessary for company to complete mineral target, and generate investor interest. Once again., this plan of operations is not for a mine. It's for conducting a scientific study on question we all wanted answered: Will this activity have a negative impact on our water>?
  • He said Mr. Stabile wants a water study. I agree with him. Only way we can find out the facts is for the Forest Service to grant the request for the study on its land. All the data will be available to the town for free to do your watershed study. This will save town a lot of money and time. Without a scientific study, how can we answer this question. I know folks opposed to the mine -- a bunch are here tonight. They will shout and misconstrue the facts. I urge you to all attend the Forest Service meeting Tuesday night. The Southern Arzona Business Coalition is holding a meet and greet the same day at 1 pm. I urge you to attend. You might be surprised. As for this vote, please limit your comments to the subject at hand. This will not be a mine plan. There will have to be an entire separate review of the mine plan of operations, he says.
  • Bowden adds: This is a plan for a study. We need a hydrological study. If we debate the mine issue tonight we will be here all night. I want to spend more time with my family. I don't want to be here tonight. Please, this is not a mine issue. It is only an issue of a study.
  • Now, Carolyn Schaefer steps to the microphone, and says, "I don't stand here with any vengeance moment. I'm here tonight because Brent Bowden, a local contractor for Wildcat Silver, requested the Town Council discuss and support the plan of operations for Wildcat Silver, for significant drilling. The town council received a 5-page scoping notice that included a summary of the 428-page plan of operations. The plan of operations is for much more than a hydrological study or the other study that Brent mentioned.
  • She adds that the 2009 town general plan opposes all mining activity as being detrimental to the town's health and welfare. She said that in 2001, the town prepared comments on a previous Wildcat Silver mining plan. She notes that Mayor Ike Isaacson has said it's important to protect the town's air and water quality and quality of life. She notes that 5 mining companies are eyeing 26,000 acres on the town's doorstep. The council needs to file comments by Sept. 26 to be eligible for continued participation in this current plan of operations,
  • Schaefer offers to assist the town's commenting efforts. Let's have a forum to exchange perspectives in a neutral atmosphere to foster civil discourse. This is not about mining vs. no mining. It's about defining our community's collective vision for water, air, land health, and about celebrating our similarities and respecting our differences, she says.
  • Martin Levowitz, who lives just outside of town, now steps to the microphone and says he's not qualified to talk about hydrological studies or mining. But he says it's unfortunate that any town document speaks disapprovingly about mining, and that you would issue proclamation supporting this mining exploration operation. If you issue proclamation against the mine or in favor of the mine, "the only things you really accomplish is adding to the discomfort, distrust and polarization of this town. . , They only increase the unhappiness and what I think we are all trying to avoid. People starting to hate one another."
  • Luis Granillo, who says he has lived here "awhile," says his recommendation to the council is to seek assistance from EPA, to ask for an impact study from the forestry, the EPA. What's going on, what affect will it have on us here? he asks. The problem is this residue we're going to get from the mining if it happens, when it happens. I don't know. I don't really care. What i care is how is it going to affect here? And the area up there where I go hunting. The whole area is full of holes. You been up there lately? Go up there. It's full of holes. It's a darned disgrace that they allow it to be filled with holes when they're supposed to be protecting our forest. I don't really care what they drill or whether they drill, just that they clean it up afterwards.
  • Next speaker says that anything under auspices of Hermosa is a mining project. He asks people to visit Morenci, which he said used to be a beautiful town on the Arizona New Mexico border. Now, it 's a spot on the driving map that says Morenci Mine, nothing else. Morenci was totally destroyed. Patagonia will be totally destroyed if the company is allowed to go ahead with its plans. Slight applause, first of the night.
  • Cliff Hirsch, longtime mine opponent, gets up and tells the crowd that the town is in no position to support this resolution yet. The only information out now is the plan of operations for drilling, 416 to 422 pages. He says he doesn't think the town council has ever been asked before to support or disapprove a business. This is a moneymaking deal. "I don't think there's enough information for you to make a decision," The council should put their comments out for the Forest Service and let the Forest Service decide what the town thinks about it, he says.
  • Odell Borg, a business owner, says Brent is right. This is not a pro or anti-mine meeting. Some people think there should be mining, lots of good jobs, others want to protect the environment. It's your responsibility to protect all the people in this town. Not just one segment. The idea that the Town Council should take any stand to support or oppose any mining operation is absurd. Rosemont Mine has been going on for years. These people aren't going to give up. There will be a lot of pressure continually. It makes a lot of sense for the town to stay neutral. I highly recommend that you do not make any proclamations whatsoever. Be n
  • Michael Stabile says, Everybody talks about I've been here for 30 years or this long. I've been here five years, it doesn't take long to realize that Patagonia is a real gem. No place like this anywhere. Industrialization will change the character of this place forever. Once the trucks start rolling through this town there will be no going back. What's going to happen is we'll import these miners. The qualifications here don't exist. Mines don't train people. They need to start working immediately.
  • A councilman asks: We don't have any skilled workers in Patagonia? No, I'm not trying to say that says Stabile. You go to Freeport McMoRan's website; they can't hire people they don't have the skilled workers. The councilman replies, "There are a lot of skilled workers here who have worked in mines."
  • Ray Klein says it appears the meeting is getting a little bit off the agenda item, although many comments may be valid either one. The issue is as far as I'm concerned. I want to get the facts. if Hermosa can present a plan to check what the mine might do to our water quality and it's a respected report, I say we go for it. Let's find out if this is going to be as bad for the community as some people say. I don't know. Until I get the information I can' t come to a complete conclusion." There are people here who think regardless of how little damage this would do to the community they still wouldn't want a mine. My mind is open..
  • Katie King, wife of a Wildcat Silver laborer, tells the council that the people who are for mining want it to be safe and checked into. As far as the comment made about being skilled, my husband didn't know about mining. He is not a geologist. But he had a heart to be local to stay in this town, where he grew up and wanted to raise his family. He got a job and it was a godsend to us. My family, my grandfather, my uncle, my dad, were all miners. We live in Arizona. it is a mining state. There will always be the chance of new mines or old mines being reopened.
  • Another speaker, Carolyn Schafer: The NEPA process is confusing. The Forest Service operates under the 1872 Mining Law. Nothing has changed in that law for the past 150 years,. The women in this country couldn't vote in 1872. The law is greatly outdated. The Forest Service they are mandated to follow the 1872 mining law. The Forest Service their hands are tied. These people care very much for the environment, but the 1872 law requires the service to work with these companies to handle extraction of the minerals. In 1972, Richard Nixon affirmed the 1872 law, she points out, but fortunately he also signed into law many other environmental laws. That 422 page document of Wildcat Silver is available online. These holes are exploratory drilling to determine the minerals that are there. The Town Council took off the agenda on whether to vote for approval of this. My recommendation is that the Town Council provide comments to the scoping service regarding water. This doesn't object to the plan of operations. It merely says to the Forest Service, these are critical items for our water. I think it's important for people to understand about this process. It's not about whether or not we approve a hydrological study or not tonight. It can and should be done by someone, she says. The company paying for it is very appropriate.
  • The Vice Mayor, Andrea Wood, says she's like to put together a forum on this subject. You need facts, she said. Opinions aren't enough, she says. Afterward, I spoke with her briefly. She said the council's views on the resolution supported by Mr. Bowden aren't clear yet. First, she wants to hold a bigger, communitywide forum on this drilling plan, complete with a facilitator. She says she also wants to have the council comment officially on the drilling plan to the Forest Service during the current "scoping" period in which the Forest Service affects written comments on the mine drilling plan. At this point, it's too early to say what if any stance the council will take on this drilling plan, she said -- or even to say exactly what actions will happen next.
  • So that's it. I was surprised. it was a vigorous discussion, but not nasty, pointed, vicious or intemperate the way some of these mine meetings are. Now, everyone is up, standing, chatting with friends, allies, neighbors, maybe even adversaries. It felt more like a town meeting and less like a confrontation. But then, this discussion over Wildcat Silver
  • --this discussion over Wildcat Silver has only been going on three years or so. Let's see how it feels in a year or two.
  • I'm very sorry once again. I posted the next to last paragraph on this blog before my sentence was finished, so I had to finish it in a separate post. That's it. This meeting was over by 8:15 p.m., only an hour and 15 minutes after it began. For a mine controversy like this one, that has to be some kind of record for brevity.
Powered by ScribbleLive
Activate

Latest Video

More videos

Watch: A sunrise from the edge of space

During a recent World View test flight, our cameras captured something magnificent. A perspective that remi…


Follow the Arizona Daily Star

Featured businesses

View more...
View more...

Deals, offers & events

View more...