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Mining bill unearths foes

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Posted: Thursday, May 5, 2011 10:13 am

Maricopa County Supervisor Max Wilson may consider Senate Bill 1598 a great thing for West Valley residents, but not everyone agrees with him.

Several members of the Joint Environmental Task Force offered reactions to Wilson’s comments that the bill, signed into law by Gov. Jan Brewer, would mean improvements to quality of life.

“Bottom line? No it won’t,” said Lyle Tuttle, a member of the task force as well as Maricopa County’s Aggregate Mining Operations Zoning District Committee. “In my opinion, all it does is allow cities to create policies as to locations of entities that are not compatible, like sand and gravel pits and homes. But policy does not carry any weight.”

Tuttle said he believes policies will be ignored if a potential conflict arises.

“Wait until the first subdivision or mining operation wants to encroach on the policy,” he said. “(They’ll say) you can’t stop the creation of a new tax base. You can’t stop 200 new jobs.”

Senate Bill 1598 revised statutes to require individual municipalities to include policies protecting against incompatible land uses and to map out aggregate mining sources. In a letter to the editor that appeared in the Daily News-Sun this week, Wilson said the new law will protect the interests of residents and mining operations.

“It strengthens cities’ and counties’ land use planning authority around aggregate mines, giving us new ways to resolve difficult land use issues,” he wrote.

Richard Wehbe, treasurer for the task force, said his most immediate concern is the bill would only apply to future mining operations and housing developments.

“Let’s be clear,” he said. “All present mines and mine sites are grandfathered.”

Shirley McDonald, chairwoman for the task force, echoed that sentiment, questioning what benefit a city would have to create a strict policy.

“It grandfathers mining sites that already exist,” she said. “What about their pollution? What if the municipality makes a mistake regarding incompatible land use? What if they say 10 feet is enough? What if it isn’t enough? It leaves it up to the municipalities via policies to determine if the public health will be threatened. The municipalities will have financial liability for making a mistake.”

In addition to fear of liability, Wehbe said some cities may opt to enact loose policies in order to maintain the status quo and avoid upsetting developers and mining operations.

“The cities may opt to continue the present situations that are in place for their own economic benefits,” he said.

Although they may have issues with the particulars of the law, Tuttle said something is better than nothing.

“I like it that the mining folks are finally coming to the table to discuss the problems associated with the close placement of homes to mines and mines to homes,” he said.

Jeff Dempsey may be reached at 623-876-2531 or

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