Sometimes a truly free press does its job. With much of the mainstream media slapping a reporter’s byline on a canned press release and calling it news, independent sources like the Arizona Daily Independent can call it as it sees it, and sometimes gets results. On April 21 ADI ran a story on the long-overdue release of an Interstate 11 Tier 1 Draft Environmental Impact Statement, noting that it was full of “lies, damned lies, and phony statistics.” The I-11 planners on April 26 released a revised version, with an Errata added, directly responding to some, but not all, of the criticisms, without ever mentioning ADI. That’s okay.
For the first time a price tag has been put on a new interstate highway through the Avra Valley, the planner’s recommended alternative — $7.6 billion. For perspective, that amount is three-quarters of the total current Arizona state budget. No money has yet been identified for construction, or for a required Tier 2 EIS that will narrow the corridors and plan the interchanges, etc.
The Errata, also for the first time, notes opposition to an Avra Valley route from the Schuk Toak District of the Tohono O’odham Nation, and from Pima County, printing the District’s resolution along with a recent letter from Pima County Board of Supervisor’s Chair Richard Elias and District 3 Supervisor Sharon Bronson reaffirming the opposition adopted unanimously in Resolution 2007-343. For some inexplicable reason, however, Elias and Bronson’s names and signatures have been redacted.
The Errata also includes the previously-ignored statement from “stakeholders” invited to meet under the auspices of the ‘neutral’ U.S. Institute for Environmental Conflict Resolution. Those meetings, designed to somehow equalize the overwhelming opposition to an Avra Valley route with the less-than-one-percent favoring it, ended up releasing a Joint Stakeholder Community Planning Group position favoring improvements on the existing I-10, and declaring any Avra Valley route “not acceptable.” Again, the names of the signers have been redacted, but their organizations are listed.
There is much discussion in the Errata of the Tucson Mitigation Corridor, a wildlife connector established “in perpetuity” when the CAP canal was built, and administered by the Federal Bureau of Reclamation. Initial I-11 plans included taking 453 acres, 15 percent, of the TMC, but the planners now say they can shift over west of the CAP canal while also avoiding Tohono O’odham land. Tunneling or elevating the highway were rejected.
Another issue is the insufficient right-of-way along Sandario Road, a major artery west of the Tucson Mountains. Now the I-11planners propose to “remove and reclaim Sandario Road,” adding wildlife crossings that would make the two-mile closure “a net benefit.” The new highway would have no interchanges along the nine miles between W. Manville Road and W. Snyder Hill Road. Not mentioned is how that would force local traffic onto the slower Kinney Road, a favorite with bicyclists and a tourist route.
Objections from Saguaro National Park and Tucson Mountain Park are dismissed, the Errata finding that “noise and visual impacts, combined, would impact the visitor experience…but would not be so severe as to substantially impair or diminish the attributes.”
While addressing some of the concerns and declaring that they are fixable, the Errata ignores several major issues. That includes the blatant misrepresentation that the “Avra Valley and Picture Rocks communities do not contain low income or minority populations.” In fact, both are federally-designated colonias, low-income communities “lacking sewers, wastewater removal, decent housing or other basic services,” according to federal guidelines. The majority of Picture Rocks Elementary School’s students qualify for federal Title 1 assistance due to low incomes, and most of the community live in manufactured homes.
There is discussion of a forthcoming, as yet unfunded, Tier 2 EIS to finalize the revised Avra Valley route, but never mentioned is the “NEPA Assignment.” Under NEPA, the National Environmental Protection Act, federal monitoring of projects like I-11 is required to protect people, wildlife, water, air quality, etc. The NEPA Assignment, an agreement between the Arizona Dept. of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration – the two agencies planning the new highway – would allow ADOT to monitor itself during the Tier 2 study. Clearly the I-11 planners are thinking ahead to possible political shifts in the 2020 elections and insulating themselves and their highway choice from federal review.
Meanwhile, opponents of a new highway that would ruin the Avra Valley, bring air, water and noise pollution to its 25,000 residents, threaten Tucson’s water supply, hurt existing I-10 businesses, open a deadly new Valley Fever Corridor, increase drug and human smuggling, harm wildlife, and cost taxpayers $7.6 billion dollars, have organized to bring their message to a series of public meetings, and to encourage public comment, now extended to July 8. Meetings begin April 29:
Monday, April 29, 5 to 8 p.m., Palo Verde Energy Education Center, 600 N. Airport Road, Buckeye;
Tuesday, April 30, 4 to 7 p.m., Wickenburg Community Center, 160 N. Valentine St., Wickenburg;
Wednesday, May 1, 5 to 8 p.m., Holiday Inn, 777 N. Pinal Ave., Casa Grande;
Tuesday, May 7, 4 to 7 p.m., Quality Hotel Americana, 639 N. Grand Ave., Nogales;
Wednesday, May 8, 3 to 8 p.m., Tucson Convention Center Ballrooms/Lobby, 260 S. Church Ave., Tucson;
Saturday, May 11, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., Marana High School Cafeteria, 12000 W. Emigh Road, Marana.
The Tucson and Marana meetings are expected to be contentious. A promise by I-11 EIS Project Manager Jay Van Echo last August to a packed Citizens for Picture Rocks meeting that, for the first time, those meetings would have open discussion and questions has been unilaterally modified. A limited number of speakers must now sign up in advance, will be limited to three minutes, and questions will not be answered.
Comments can be made several ways: Online: i11study.com/Arizona; Email: I-11ADOTStudy@hdrinc.com; Bilingual Phone: 1.844.544.8049; Mail: I-11 Tier 1 EIS Study Team, c/o ADOT Communications, 1655 W. Jackson St., Mail Drop 126F, Phoenix, AZ 85007 . Deadline is now July 8.
The Errata is dense, and can be found at: http://origin.i11study.com/Arizona/PDF/I11DEIS_Errata_April2019.pdf.
See also ADI’s earlier story at: https://arizonadailyindependent.com/2019/04/21/interstate-11-study-lies-damned-lies-and-phony-statistics/
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