While we were formulating our recommendations to the Fire District regarding a potential new Tubac Fire Station, we received a letter from the Chair of the Fire District Board.
Tubac Fire District Chief Cheryl Horvath presented the following to a packed meeting of the Citizens Council on November 8. She also responded to questions. We thank the Chief for the presentation and interaction with the audience.
I am sure many of you are aware that booster shots are approved and available for folks who are over 65 and others with underlying conditions. No matter which vaccine you had, a booster is available. Simply go to the County Facility at 375 Rio Rico Rd (off Exit 17 on the west side of the freeway). It's walk-in, and open from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm Monday through Friday. You fill out a short form and get the shot. Take your vaccination and insurance cards. It takes less than 10 minutes for the whole process. I am sure you will run into a friend! The County says the shots will continue to be available as long as there is demand.
Our next meeting is November 8 at 9:00 am at the Tubac Community Center. Remember that all our meetings will be the second Monday of the month. We are going to try Zoom for those who prefer not to attend in person. It will be a little clunky. Those using Zoom should be able to see and hear people speaking from the podium. They won't see or hear people not at the podium. But, we will repeat audience questions before answering. Let's see if it's workable.
Our speaker will be Fire Chief Cheryl Horvath who will explain the proposal to replace the Tubac Fire Station with a new facility. In this regard, the Tubac Fire Board will be meeting Wednesday, October 27 at 1:30 pm at the District's Fire Station at 1360 W Frontage Rd, Rio Rico. At that time, the Fire Board will consider acquiring land for a new station in Tubac. The discussion will take place in a closed session, as allowed by law, but there is an opportunity for public comment at the beginning of the meeting.
Our meeting will be in person at 9:00 am on Monday October 18 at the Tubac Community Center, 50 Bridge Road. This will be the first in person meeting since February 2020. We ask that you be fully vaccinated and wear a face mask. It will be a special event.
Liz Petterson is the Executive Director of the Arizona Land and Water Trust. It is a non-profit organization that works with land owners to create conservation easements which prevent development that would impair the ecological values of the land. Recently they have had their first transaction in Santa Cruz County by entering into agreements to purchase portions of the Sopori Ranch and create conservation easements on other portions. She will discuss what her land trust does and possible future transactions in our County.
As we explained at the September meeting, the Board is proposing changes in the Bylaws to move our meetings to the second Monday of each month to avoid conflicts with Christmas and other holidays. The changes also move the vote on the Board of Directors to December so that the new Board starts off in January. We will vote on these changes at our meeting. The Bylaws as they would be amended and a comparison with existing Bylaws can be viewed via this link.
Our next member meeting is Monday, October 18th 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.
The Tubac Transfer Station is now open and conducting a pilot program for recycling. It's limited but it's very important that it be successful. Please visit this page for details.
We have several items to report. First, we are very much hoping for an in-person member meeting on September 20, 2021, at 9:00 am. Mark your calendars! Although, we can’t be definite yet (because the Delta Variant flare up in COVID cases is causing uncertainty about large indoor meetings) we really hope to be able to get together.
This has become a contentious issue. Some are strongly opposed to the cattle operation being undertaken while others are in support. Because of the controversy and the potential for adverse impacts, our purpose is to gather relevant information and provide it to you. This is a major part of our mission as an organization. So, this report will discuss what we have learned since our July 13 report.
First, we have been unable to arrange a site visit and the attorney for PM Ranch has not confirmed his attendance at our September meeting. But, we have been in contact with staff at several government agencies and we reviewed what PM Ranch and others have provided us. Here is what we have learned.
Santa Cruz County has a floodplain and erosion hazard ordinance. County staff has observed that fencing has been installed in the channel which, under that ordinance, requires a permit. The County has retained a professional engineer to work with the owner to meet the conditions necessary for a permit. The County also believes there is no danger from flooding to any location off the ranch property.
Cattle operations that have the potential to affect groundwater can require a permit from the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ). However, ADEQ has informed us that no permit is required because the PM Ranch activity does not meet the definition of an Animal Feeding Operation (AFO) and is not therefore a Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO). The ranch will graze cattle off the land and not bring in feed which, according to ADEQ, excludes it from fitting within categories that would require a permit.
The discharge of dredged or fill material below the ordinary high water mark of the Santa Cruz River requires a permit from the United States Army Corps of Engineers. According to documentation provided by PM Ranch, on June 29, 2021, the Corps informed the owner that no permit is required because it found no discharge of dredged or fill material in the river.
A study done by the University of Arizona and the Friends of the Santa Cruz River in 2019 (https://www.mdpi.com/1660-4601/16/9/1569/pdf) concluded that some private wells in the Santa Cruz River area between Nogales and Tubac are contaminated with nitrates and E.coli in excess of standards. This means that these pollutants are already in the groundwater in the Tubac area. There is a potential for the PM cattle operation to increase these pollutants. Please note: We are are not saying this will happen but only that it is a possibility. We asked EPCOR, which has domestic water supply wells in Tubac, to review potential impacts to its facilities. They said they will.
Finally, there could be air quality impacts. Methane can be emitted by cattle, depending on diet. This is a greenhouse gas. There is a possibility of odors as well. Tubac is in what is known as an air quality “attainment” area – meaning there are no air pollutants that exceed Federal and State standards. Apparently, because air quality in “attainment” areas is considered good, there are no air quality permitting requirements for this operation.
In summary, no Corps permit is required. No air quality permit is required. A permit from the County for constructing fencing in the floodplain or floodway is required and it is expected that the owner will meet the conditions necessary for this permit to be issued. No permit will be required from ADEQ. We are not aware of any other permits that would be required.
Finally, we hope to learn more about potential impacts to groundwater and the Santa Cruz River.
The Citizens Council had been involved in recycling issues before the Pandemic. Even at that time, there were serious problems because markets for recycled materials were shrinking. Then, the Pandemic brought a complete halt to recycling in Santa Cruz County.
Now we can report that recycling is starting again. It has begun at the Rio Rico Recycling Center (1500 W Frontage Road off Exit 22). The hours of operation are Thursday, Friday, and Saturday from 8 am to 2 pm. The items that are accepted are limited:
-Tin and Aluminum Cans
-Plastic #1 and #2, no plastic bags
It is important that these items be clean and dry. Contamination means that vendors may not accept them for recycling.
The Tubac recycling facility will open August 21.
We want to thank the County, Homero Lopez, Julie Arma and Dr. Joel Block for their efforts to create sustainable recycling for our community.
The Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission is beginning to hold hearings on redrawing lines for congressional and legislative districts to reflect the results of the most recent census. The website for the Commission is: irc.az.gov. There you can find general information about how redistricting will be done. This will be a long process involving the boundaries of Congressional, State legislative and Supervisorial districts. We will follow this and comment if appropriate.
TUBAC VILLAGE SEWAGE ISSUE
There is a small group leading the effort to find solutions to the sewage and septic problem in the Tubac commercial area. The project team leader is Bob Ochoa. The group has identified the need for an engineering and legal feasibility study to determine such matters as options, costs, fees, and governmental structure. Recently they met with a group of commercial property owners to provide them with information and answer questions. The challenge is to raise funds for the feasibility study.
INTERNATIONAL OUTFALL INTERCEPTOR
The United States Section of the International Boundary and Water Commission (USIBWC) awarded the first of ultimately two contracts to improve the International Outfall Interceptor (IOI) pipeline. The pipeline takes sewage from Nogales and Rio Rico to the Nogales International Wastewater Treatment Plant (NIWTP) in Rio Rico. Part of the project involves inserting an inner liner that cures in place to repair damaged pipes that are under existing washes/creeks and which would be very expensive to reroute. The repairs will also help reduce the threat from stormwater and debris to certain vulnerable areas. Treated water from the NIWTP is then discharged into the Santa Cruz River. See https://www.ibwc.gov/Files/Press_Release_071321.pdf for more details.
RESURFACING I 19 BETWEEN AMADO AND TUBAC
ADOT projects that the I 19 resurfacing project will be finished by Thanksgiving.
The Board has been working on revising the Bylaws. We want to change the annual election of Board members to December of each year so that new Boards can take office at the beginning of the year. In addition, we are proposing to change the regular meetings from the third Monday of each month to the second Monday of each month (except June, July, and August when we normally do not meet). We are proposing this to avoid proximity to Christmas for our December meetings and overlap with national holidays for other months during the year. The membership will vote on these revisions at our September meeting. If you know of any local organizations that meet in the mornings on the second Monday of the month, please let us know. We would like to avoid having conflicting meeting times.
Absent any unforeseen events, our next communication will be at our September 20 meeting.
Board of Directors
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.