The May 16, 2017, Board of Supervisors meeting adopted a resolution written by the County Administrator’s office in defense of Ironwood Forest National Monument, one of the monuments to be reviewed in accord with President Donald Trump’s executive order. The resolution calls the review “a threat to the integrity of our public lands.”
The irony is that Interstate 11, a threat to public lands and to private citizens and their homes, receives only silence now from the BOS who refuse to defend their own policy. The Arizona Dept. of Transportation’s $15 million Interstate 11 Tier One Environmental Impact Study (EIS) – proposed and passed by then-State Transportation Board Chair and now-Supervisor Steve Christy — has laid out three alternative routes through the Tucson area, two of them through the Avra Valley and the other following I-10. County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry laid out an Avra Valley route several years ago.
Comments on the alternatives are open until June 2, so this BOS meeting was the only regular session before that date, a last chance to correct the record. The official position of the Board was adopted December 18, 2007 in Resolution 2007-343: “… the Pima County Board of Supervisors opposes the construction of any new highways in or around the County that have the stated purpose of bypassing the existing Interstate 10 as it is believed that the environmental, historic, archaeological and urban form impacts could not be adequately mitigated.”
Just a few months ago Supervisor Bronson cited that resolution at an election forum in Picture Rocks stating that her position, and that of the entire Board, was in opposition to any I-11 route through the Avra Valley. Yet Pima County’s position of record with ADOT is just the opposite, with this June 7, 2016, letter to the ADOT I-11 planners from the County Administrator:
“Pima County in 2013 developed a conceptual route for the I-11 Corridor through Avra Valley west of Tucson…. In developing this route we sought to demonstrate that a potential route exists through this undeveloped region rather than employing the existing I-19 and I-10 corridors….” The record shows that the BOS was not sent a copy of that letter.
Setting aside very serious issues of gross insubordination, and of using County resources and money to subvert The Board’s adopted policy, residents are confused now about just who speaks for the County – the elected board, or Mr. Huckelberry? During the May 16 Call to the Public it was pointed out that Mr. Huckelberry’s misrepresentations stand as the County’s official position of record on I-11 – to sacrifice the communities, jobs, tourist attractions, wildlife and archaeological treasures of the Avra Valley to ADOT’s stated I-11 goal of sending jobs across the border.
Resolution 2007-343 called for expanding existing transportation corridors. ADOT itself admits that double-decking just six miles of I-10 would do everything they want at 1/3 the cost of a new highway, saving taxpayers nearly $2 billion. Even the City of Tucson told ADOT that using the existing I10 and I-19 corridors makes more sense!
The Avra Valley Coalition on May 16 urged the Supervisors to “act now before it’s too late. And please let us know that you did so so we can tell the many voters who oppose Mr. Huckelberry’s highway or ADOT’s tweaks that you have not abdicated your responsibilities; that this Board does mean what it says, that you can control your hired hand, that democracy in Pima County is not defunct. Please tell us you will correct the record. It requires no new action, merely transmittal of your adopted position.”
Chairperson Bronson, the rest of the BOS, and the County Administrator sat in stone-faced silence.
While no funding has been yet identified for I-11 in Southern Arizona and construction is years away, it was made a priority with amendments to the 2015 federal FAST Act with the full bipartisan support of Arizona’s Congressional delegation, including McCain, Flake and Grijalva. Decisions made in the next year with ADOT’s EIS planners deciding on a “preferred alternative” will impact the people and wildlife of the Avra Valley for all time.
Hundreds have spoken out again and again at public meetings against the ADOT-Huckelberry Highway. Over 1200 people have signed an online petition of opposition to any new Avra Valley highway. State and federal agencies have raised serious issues about the negative impacts of any Avra Valley route. It’s cheaper by a lot to stay on I-10. But the elected Pima County Board of Supervisors will not speak out in defense of their own resolution, will not call to account their hired hand for vastly overstepping his authority.
If Resolution 2007-343 is of no force and its authors and adopters will not defend it, then – sad to say – the future of Ironwood Forest National Monument has to look pretty bleak as well. If the resolution adopted May 16 is treated like 2007-343, it will join as a growing testament to hypocrisy. Some will blame the president, but the truth will be much closer to home, is bi-partisan, and is a sad corruption of the democracy we thought we lived in.