It had been widely advertised for weeks that Arizona Dept. of Transportation’s (ADOT) Jay Van Echo, Project Manager for the current three-year, $15 million, Tier One Environmental Impact Study, would be the guest speaker at the monthly Citizens for Picture Rocks (C4PR) meeting on June 20. The 15-year-old 501(c)(4) community group had heard from I-11 opponents at their May meeting, and wanted to give ADOT equal time.
ADOT cancelled their appearance with just four days notice. ADOT’s Community Relations Project Manager, Laura Douglas, emailed C4PR president Della Grove:
“ADOT respectfully declines to participate in the June 20 meeting. It is imperative that we maintain the same structure and expectations as our six public meetings held in May and that we follow the guidelines set forth by the National Environmental Policy Act and the Federal Highway Administration in order to maintain the objectivity and accountability of the study process. Unfortunately, our ability to present the current information as it stands and follow the set procedure applied during our public meetings is being met with unanticipated consequences. As such, we are not confident that the June 20 meeting structure and needs, along with civility and respect for all participants and presenters, can be guaranteed.”
Grove responded that the sudden cancellation was “unprofessional,” and “this is really going to leave a bad taste with the citizens of Picture Rocks about this whole situation. They deserve more than they have gotten. We understand that you don’t have all the answers. But I was hoping that this meeting would answer some of their concerns.”
As Grove circulated ADOT’s email people wondered about the “civility and respect” reference. No one knew of any ADOT I-11 meetings where there was not civility and respect, except at the May 3 Marana meeting where an ADOT representative physically stopped a resident from asking a question about costs. The reference to “set procedure” and “structure and needs” also raised doubts about ADOT’s willingness to have an open discussion with area residents.
Despite notices that Van Echo’s talk had been cancelled, around 60 people filled the Picture Rocks Community Center wanting to talk about I-11 in the Avra Valley. With no guest speaker replacement on such short notice, Grove and the C4PR Board decided to have an open discussion about the planned new interstate, and the people of Picture Rocks spoke out loud and clear.
While a few attendees had unanswered questions about the proposed highway, it was clear that nearly everyone present opposed I-11 coming through the Avra Valley. That mirrors the 1,000-plus public comments submitted to ADOT during the “Alternatives” comment period, with people favoring either a “No-Build” or follow the I-10 corridor alternative. They cited concerns from area politicians, the City of Tucson, and various state and federal agencies which preferred using the existing I-10 route rather than negatively impact existing I-10-related jobs, Avra Valley tourism, wildlife, archaeology and the thousands of families who live there.
Out of the discussion came an action plan. For the first time in its 15-year history, Citizens for Picture Rocks would take an official stand opposing an Avra Valley I-11 route. The Board of Directors will draft a statement to be submitted for a vote at the August 15 membership meeting. C4PR plans to get the word out every way they can, including in their widely-read community newsletter, Picture Rocks Digest.
Readers will be encouraged to notify their legislators, notably Supervisor Sharon Bronson, Senators John McCain and Jeff Flake, and Congressman Raúl Grijalva (who has taken a public position against an Avra Valley I-11). C4PR also decided to oppose any changes to the Avra Valley’s Ironwood Forest National Monument in President Trump’s current review of national monuments.