The La Paz County Planning & Zoning Commission has given the “thumbs down” sign regarding a proposed aluminum recycling smelter near the community of Wenden. At a meeting Dec. 5, the commission voted to recommend the County Board of Supervisors reject a change to the county’s comprehensive plan to allow for the smelter to be built at its proposed location. Should the Supervisors vote to approve the change to the plan, the commission recommended they not approve a zoning change for the smelter.
The commission can only make recommendations to the Supervisors. The final decision on these matters will be made by the Supervisors.
The meeting was held at the Centennial Community Center between Wenden and Salome so residents of the area would not have to travel to Parker. District 3 Supervisor Holly Irwin arranged for the meeting to be held at the Centennial Center. The meeting was held before a packed house.
Alliance Metals LLC plans to build the smelter. They had two items on the agenda for the Dec. 5 meeting. Under Agenda Item 6, they were asking for an amendment to the Comprehensive Plan to allow the facility. Under Agenda Item 7, they were requesting a zoning change from Rural Agricultural-40 acre minimum (RA-40) to Industrial Planned Development (IPD) for the smelter.
The location will be at 70050 U.S. 60 in Wenden, near the entrance to Centennial Park. The property once housed a large cotton gin.
Tom Galvin, an attorney for the Rose Law Group and a spokesperson for Alliance Metals, told the commission Alliance wants to spend $30 million on the project, and they will create good, well-paying jobs. He said recycling aluminum is more environmentally friendly than mining for new aluminum. He noted the county currently receives $8,700 in property taxes from the site each year. He said the smelter would increase that to $66,000. He estimated an additional $230,000 over the next 10 years for Wenden Elementary School.
Galvin said Alliance wants to run a clean operation and will be a good neighbor. He added they will be supporting local schools and non-profits.
Galvin said Alliance’s planned safeguards against possible releases of hazardous materials went well beyond the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality’s regulations.
Major Kindesfater, an environmental consultant for the company, said Alliance’s emissions would be within the limits set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and ADEQ.
The two company representatives were followed by a parade of speakers who spoke out against the proposed smelter. Their objections included having a facility handling and storing hazardous materials so close to residential areas. There were also concerns over releases of hazardous materials and the effect emissions would have on nearby agricultural operations, including fruit and nut trees.
Many speakers noted the comprehensive plan called for the preservation of the agricultural character of the McMullen Valley. They said the smelter would be incompatible with agricultural uses in the area.
One of the leading opponents of the smelter, Gary Saiter, said the smelter and its emissions would make the area unsuitable for agriculture.
Some speakers said they came to the area specifically because it is rural and agricultural, and they didn’t want to see it turned industrial.
Eugene Bellman asked how the company would handle chemicals and other materials attached to the aluminum brought for recycling, like Teflon on cookware. Others asked about petroleum products on auto parts like engine blocks.
There were also comments regarding incomplete or missing applications and forms from Alliance regarding the project.
County Assessor Anna Camacho said there were inconsistencies with Alliance’s application. For one thing, the land was actually owned by Technocon International, a Florida-based firm. She said they actually purchased seven properties, and they wanted to merge them together. She said her office would need more information before that could be done. Among other things, she said the property taxes hadn’t been paid.
“I’m sorry, but it just doesn’t look good to me,” she said.
Galvin told the commission the taxes were paid Dec. 2. Camacho said she sent a text message to Treasurer Leah Castro following this claim and asked if the taxes had been paid. She showed the Pioneer Castro’s response on her cell phone where Castro said that, to the best of her knowledge, the taxes had not been paid as of Dec. 5.
Some expressed astonishment Alliance would purchase the land for $1.5 million knowing they would have to have a change to the comprehensive plan and a zoning change to do what they wanted. Gary Zak said Alliance should have been directed by the La Paz Economic Development Corporation to a site zoned for industry.
If Alliance didn’t know they’d need these items, Zak said this was a horrible business decision on their part. Either that, he said, or they were told a zoning change would be no problem.
Other areas of concern included truck traffic. Scott Meyer of Don’t Waste Arizona said the commission should also consider damage to roads from trucks.
Meyer also asked about plans to handle hazardous by-products of the facility, like highly toxic salt cake. He noted Arizona currently has not landfills that can handle this material.
Another concern was for the hazardous materials in the plant, such as chlorine and salt cake. It was mentioned by several speakers the McMullen Valley Fire Department, which is an all-volunteer department, was not equipped or trained for hazmat situations. The nearest department that could handle these is in Buckeye.
Eventually, after listening to speakers for more than two hours, the commission made their votes to recommend the county supervisors not approve the changes to the comprehensive plan or the zoning change.
As the two were separate items, Galvin was asked if he wanted to say something about the zoning change. He replied he did not.
“The message has been clear,” he said.
Deputy La Paz County Attorney Ryan Dooley said that, if the supervisors vote not to amend the comprehensive plan, they would not need to vote on the zoning change as it would be a moot point.
When the matter comes before the Board of Supervisors, Irwin said she’d like to have them hold the meeting at the Centennial Community Center so they can hear from local residents.