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Arizona lawmakers to erect barriers by gravel mines

By Howard Fischer
Capitol Media Services

PHOENIX -- Alarmed about what could have happened to one community, state lawmakers on Thursday agreed to erect some barriers to new rock and gravel operations opening up in existing neighborhoods.
Strictly speaking, HB 2685 would not bar new mines.
But it does put in place some new hurdles. And state Mine Inspector Paul Marsh said that will empower him to do something he can't do now: actually reject an application.
What prompted the legislation were plans announced last year by Fortune Rock LLC to start mining what is called "aggregate'' on a 25-acre site it owned in the Cedar Heights neighborhood in a rural area near Chino Valley. It also was within 100 feet of existing homes.
Resident Vickie Niesley told members of the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Energy the plans came as a surprise to them.
"We saw the mine notice on a telephone pole,'' she said. But Niesley said the belief was there was no way that could happen so close to a community -- and on land zoned for residential development -- what with possible effects on everything from home values to health.
"We were determined to save our community for those who had retired here, those that didn't have the resources to move to a safer space, those that have health issues that this mine would worsen,'' she said. That, she said, proved not to be the case.
Niesley said the Mine Inspector's Office provided no help. And, in fact, the mine was approved after a hearing.
Residents got temporary relief when Attorney General Kris Mayes filed a complaint, using existing laws about "nuisance'' to ask a judge to issue a temporary injunction.
As it turns out, that never got to court. But what it did is buy the neighbors some time.
In that interim Ted Delcero, a nearby resident stepped in, bought up the property and stopped the mine. Mayes then dismissed her lawsuit.
At the heart of the issue are the current laws that Marsh said pretty much require him to approve any request for aggregate mining that submits an acceptable reclamation plan. That, he said, was the case here.
Marsh said what is in the legislation by Rep. Selina Bliss, R-Prescott, will allow him to ask the Arizona Geological Survey whether there actually is aggregate in the area.
What it also would do is require the owner or operator of the property to provide notice to all residential property owners within a half mile of the site at least 15 days before submitting the reclamation plan, along with the name of a contact to answer their questions. It also would allow those property owners to request a copy of the plan.
And there's something else.
In addition to what Marsh can now consider in reviewing any reclamation plan -- a list that includes everything from wildlife habitat and recreational use to historic preservation -- it would allow the mine inspector to also evaluate "comments from the state geologist or any elected official.''
Yavapai County Supervisor James Gregory said that provides more than exists now.
"To our shock, when we looked into it, the only process was that they got to do a reclamation plan and safety plan,'' he told lawmakers.
"And then they just check the boxes and the mine goes in,'' Gregory said. "To our shock, meeting with council and staff, there was nothing we can do about it.''
The unanimous vote sends HB 2685 to the full Senate. It already has cleared the House.
On X and Threads: @azcapmedia