On June 15, 2021, the Board issued a Special Report on Grading and Other Activities at PM Ranch. Since that time, the range of things occurring there has increased. We will bring you up to date, including SCVCC efforts to be in touch with regulatory agencies and the Ranch Owners. We want to understand plans for operations and applicable regulatory requirements. Any permitting processes which might occur will take time and we want to be knowledgeable and effective at pursuing any positions we take. This is a fluid situation so we are relaying what we know as of July 13, the date of this report.
In our June 15 Report, we noted some details about the size of the property, the nature of the grading and preliminary ideas of how the cattle operation would be conducted. Since then, grading and dust issues have continued. We have received reports that cattle have been trucked to the site. Recently it has been reported that a new road is being constructed from the East Frontage Road to the Ranch. It seems they are moving to the operational phase.
Some of our members, and others, have been active in contacting government officials. They are asking for information or insisting upon action by agencies concerning the potential impacts of activities at PM Ranch. For example, we have been told that staff at the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) is looking into the situation and are coordinating with the US Army Corps of Engineers (a near neighbor filed a complaint with the Corps).
It is our perception that there are potential air quality and water quality issues and perhaps flooding issues.
The SCVCC Board does not have sufficient information at this point to take any position. But, we are actively contacting government officials. We are arranging a meeting on site with the owners or their representative. We have more information than we had when we met with their attorney and are in a better position now to ask more definitive questions. After all of this, we will be in a position to determine what actions we might take.
We will provide you with more detailed information and possible actions as soon as we can.
Board of Directors
Over the last month or more we have witnessed massive amounts of dust emanating from the ranch north of Chavez Siding Road. The Citizens Council has received numerous complaints. We have seen pictures and videos showing the sky darkened and homes, cars and patios covered in dust. We and others have made inquiries to the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ). That agency has conducted several inspections.
Before reporting on our pretty much failed effort to get relief, we will tell you about the meeting our Board had with Mark Larkin, attorney for PM Ranch. Following that meeting, he provided additional information. Our goal was to learn what they are doing, what is planned and to ask questions. Here is a summary of what we learned:
The ranch consists of about 1300 acres. 312 acres have irrigation water rights. The current land leveling is being done on 272 acres. The balance of the 312 acres were leveled about 14 years ago.
The plan is for this property to operate as an intermediate phase of cattle processing. The first stage is when calves are dependent on their mothers. That is not planned for this property. The intermediate stage is what the ranch proposes to undertake. It involves feeding cattle in paddocks which are irrigated and support vegetation upon which the cattle feed. A paddock is an enclosed area surrounded by berms intended to retain water. The paddocks are currently being created on the 272 acres. The remaining area (about 1,000 acres) would be used intermittently as open pasture. Each animal would be on site for 120 to 180 days and would be transported to and from the site on Chavez Siding Road by truck. The final stage of cattle processing, not being proposed here, are feed lots and slaughter.
The paddocks are bring created by large scale grading which causes the dust. Mr. Larkin estimates that work will be completed by the end of the month. He states that the main cut and fill work is finishing up and that what he calls laser work is the main effort now. That activity, he says, moves very little dirt and is done at low speed. Finally, such intensive grading is apparently needed only every 10 to 30 years.
The ADEQ has inspected the site several times and has found no violation of air quality standards. It is our understanding that the standard they use is 40% opacity. Inspection Reports have recorded impaired opacity up to 38% but no violations. On May 25, ADEQ requested the operator to wet down the area three times per day. The most recent inspection occurred on June 2. It continues to find no violation and states that records indicate that water has been applied three times per day since May 21. However, from our own observations, and others in the community, the water suppression effort has not resulted in any improvement.
It appears to us that as a practical matter, there is no recourse for the dust problem.
The Board and others have been concerned about impacts to the Santa Cruz River. Mr. Larkin states that the paddocks are intended to retain all water onsite. He states that there is no “point source” of discharge to the river and thus no regulation by the State. We confirmed his statement with Storm Water staff at ADEQ. There is concern that pollution from the paddocks could pollute the Santa Cruz River by going into ground water and making its way to the river. This is a potential problem for many forms of agricultural activities and to our knowledge there are currently no regulatory standards in place.
All of this leaves the community without relief. It is frustrating to say the least. We and others have contacted regulators and public officials to no avail. Under the air quality standard that applies in our area, ADEQ has found no violation. Based on the inspection reports we have reviewed, it is unlikely that violations will be found.
As time passes, the dust issue may end. Potential river pollution, truck traffic on Chavez Siding Road, air pollution, the impact of intense cattle operations on adjacent areas and other issues may arise.
We will continue to follow this and report any new developments. *
Board of Directors
Santa Cruz Valley Citizens Council
*June 16: Attorney Larkin just informed us that 22 of the acres he said are being graded are not. Those acres had been previously leveled. Berms are being placed in that area but not extensive grading.
Our next member meeting is Monday, September 20th at 9:00 am. It is unknown at this time if we will be meeting via Zoom or in person or if we will send a newsletter.