The El Mirage City Council will take more time before deciding on an agreement that could pave the way for further mining along the Agua Fria River, a pact that one opponent said would be “a deal with the devil.”
“The council needs more time to review the agreement,” El Mirage Mayor Lana Mook said at Thursday night’s meeting. “We realize this is a burden on city staff and the property owner, but there are questions and issues that need to be discussed further.”
The council’s decision to table the matter came after 30 minutes of public comments, a presentation by city staff and an executive session lasting more than an hour.
At issue is a pre-annexation agreement that would allow more mining along the river between Peoria and Olive avenues.
Mike LeVault, the mayor of neighboring Youngtown, who encouraged his residents as well as those of El Mirage to attend the meeting and speak out, told the El Mirage council he objects to the agreement.
“We believe the dust, noise and heavy truck traffic associated with a mining operation will adversely impact the health and property values of the citizens of both Youngtown and El Mirage,” he said. “I am here tonight to urge El Mirage and the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community to work with us to find a more suitable and compatible use for the property, one that does not put the people, their homes and the wildlife and natural environment at risk.”
Richard Wehbe, secretary for the Maricopa County Mining Recommendation Committee and treasurer of the Joint Environmental Task Force, warned El Mirage to be careful before giving its blessing to a mining operation.
“This is kind of a Pandora’s Box,” he said. “Once you open it, you will have no say in the matter. Portable permits can come right in. At one point, the Agua Fria near my property had nine permits operating within a half-mile of each other. You’re making a deal with the devil.”
The agreement has been under discussion since February 2010. The city would annex approximately 240 acres of land owned by the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, with the community’s Salt River Materials Group then beginning mining. As part of the agreement, Deputy City Manager Bill Pupo said the property owner would agree to certain restrictions such as setbacks and regulated operating hours. Salt River Materials Group does not need the annexation in order to receive permits to mine that property, however.
“The city is acting to annex an area with an existing and continuing right to mine,” said El Mirage Senior Planning Director Mark Smith. “Mining will happen regardless.”
That statement left El Mirage resident Barbara Roberts, whose family owns the Pueblo El Mirage active retirement community, which borders the land, wondering just what would be the point of the annexation.
“What’s in it for the owners?” she said. “What is the city getting from them and what are they getting from the city? There seems to be a lot more behind this.”
Roberts said she finds the idea of a mine so close to her property “a little scary,” but she said she is withholding judgment until the details of the agreement are made public.
“I can’t say I’m against it or for it until I have all the facts,” she said. “But I want to know, what is the city’s piece of the pie? And the owners, why do they want to be annexed? I don’t understand.”
Tiffany Seay, a Youngtown mother of two young boys, said her husband has severe allergies and asthma. She said she and her sons go walking in the desert all the time.
“It would break their hearts if we could no longer do that,” she said. “I’m begging you to please consider all the options. Find something more beneficial to our communities than a mine.”
Jeff Dempsey may be reached at 623-876-2531 or firstname.lastname@example.org.