Alliance Metals has described the Dec. 5 La Paz County Planning and Zoning Commission meeting as unfair and an effort to “stack the deck” against them. In a press release dated Dec. 6, the company said the decision to hold the meeting at the Centennial Community Center in Wenden was “unusual, irregular and unprecedented.”
Alliance has plans to build an aluminum recycling smelter on U.S Route 60 between Wenden and Salome. One of the leading opponents of the plan, Gary Saiter, said the meeting was moved to Wenden from its normal location in Parker so more people who would be directly affected by the smelter would have a chance to attend.
At the Dec. 5 meeting, the commission voted to recommend the Board of Supervisors reject a change to the county’s comprehensive plan and also reject a zoning change that would have allowed for the smelter. A parade of local residents spoke out against the proposed smelter. They were concerned about emissions, hazardous materials used in the process and by-products of the process, the potential negative effect this would have on nearby agricultural facilities, and the fact the smelter was not being planned in an area already zoned for industry.
The site is currently zoned for Rural Agricultural-40 acre minimum (RA-40).
The meeting was moved to Wenden at the urging of the County Supervisor for the area, District 3 Supervisor Holly Irwin.
“Moving the hearing away from its normal location appears to be a politically motivated effort to ‘stack the deck’ against bringing new jobs and increased tax revenue to the county and in favor of the self-appointed leader of the opposition to Alliance Metals’ recycling and economic development investment,” the press release stated.
The release went on to state Alliance has seen a lot of interest in employment opportunities at the job fairs they’ve held around the county.
“The county’s highly unusual action disenfranchised these job seekers,” said Loren Barton, Vice President of Alliance Metals.
The release stated that Alliance Metals was never consulted on moving the meeting out of Parker, and the County Attorney’s office was unable to provide examples of other meetings taking place outside the county seat. They added it was held in the afternoon, so working people and families could not attend. They further noted Saiter’s wife, De Vona, is a member of the Commission.
Alliance Metals also attacked Saiter for his roles as Chairman of the Wenden Water Improvement District and President of the Wenden Elementary School District Board. They said the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality had ordered the Wenden water district to send out notifications of violations by the district, and that unsafe water at Wenden Elementary School forced the students there to use bottled water.
Saiter replied by saying it was appropriate to have the meeting in Wenden because these would be the people most affected by the smelter.
“It is the first time Alliance has faced the people who they profess they want to be good neighbors to,” he said.
Saiter said he saw a lot of retirees who attended the meeting, but that was because many retirees live in the area. He also saw working people and families. He said he knew of businesses that closed up so their owners and employees could attend.
As for claims the meeting was set up so Saiter could bring in opposition “activists,” he said, “It sounds like they were at a different meeting than the rest of us.”
“I don’t know how they think I am so powerful when they saw the overwhelming opposition,” Saiter said. “It seemed pretty obvious to me that the opposition was overwhelming.”
The problem with the Wenden water system were from a chemical reaction between citric acid and chlorine used to disinfect the system. Saiter said it amounted to the equivalent of a parking ticket, and has since been corrected. He noted Alliance didn’t mention the district’s completion of a $500,000 project to lower the arsenic level in Wenden’s water.
Saiter said Wenden Elementary School is a “plastic bottle-free zone,” and students and teacher there drink the district’s water.
In the press release, Alliance said they are still committed to bring a safe, clean operation to the county that will provide jobs and more tax revenue for the county. They noted their efforts have been featured in publications like Recycling Today, FastMarkets, and Argus Media.
The final decision on the change to the comprehensive plan and the zoning change will be made by the La Paz County Board of Supervisors. It’s on the agenda for their Jan. 6, 2020 meeting.