A proposal to build an aluminum smelting plant along the highway connecting the towns of Wenden and Salome in rural La Paz County have created controversy, with some local residents saying they don’t want the plant and the company arguing it would be great for the local economy.
The debate started when the Arizona Republic ran a piece on it on August 16th. Since then, Parker Live has received 8 emails by a public relations firm hired by Alliance Metals, the company that plans to open the facility, offering a counterpoint. Unlike some other publications, Parker Live didn’t think it would be fair to run their editorial without balancing it using an editorial from a local resident.
So, below, we’re running the second op-ed sent to us by Alliance Metals, written by the Vice President of the company, Loren Barton. He argues that the company has a responsible plan for the facility that will add jobs and revenue to the local economy.
We’re also running an op-ed by Gary Saiter, the Chairman of the Wenden Water Improvement District Board, who says he has no issue welcoming the company to La Paz County, but cites environmental concerns with the proposed location, saying it’s too close to residential populations.
We hope you’ll read both perspectives and decide for yourself!
La Paz County’s Opportunity for New Jobs, Investment and Tax Revenue
by Alliance Metals Vice President Loren Barton
La Paz County has a great opportunity to attract new jobs and business investments that will generate needed tax revenue for our local schools, community colleges, fire departments and flood controls.
It’s an opportunity the county should not miss.
Our company, Alliance Metals USA, wants to bring construction and permanent jobs to a planned aluminum manufacturing facility located between Wenden and Salome.
The site is a vacant, closed-down cotton gin. We plan on investing $30 million in the jobs producing facility.
Our goal, our promise is to be a good neighbor who will create jobs and tax revenue while safeguarding the environment in a beautiful part of Arizona.
We will be an environmentally responsible steward of the property. We are going through all the necessary and required government and environmental permitting processes and will satisfy all the required environmental safeguards and regulations.
Alliance Metals USA will install mitigation infrastructure and technology to curtail emissions and ensure air and water quality. We must achieve approvals from the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality in order to operate.
Our innovative operations will make our processes environmentally friendly. The cotton gins that previously operated on the same site produced 1,000 particulate emissions per day during ginning season. Our facility will also use a very small amount of water. We will take significant steps to protect water supplies.
There will only be couple of trucks per hour passing through the facility. We want to be a responsible neighbor. We will be providing more plans to La Paz County showing the minimal impact on traffic.
We know La Paz County is an outstanding place to live, raise a family and retire but the county and McMullen Valley also need new jobs and investments.
Our new jobs and investments will generate important tax revenue for local schools, community colleges, the region’s fire districts, as well as La Paz County overall.
There are skeptics and foes to the jobs and investment. Some of them are fueled by social media conspiracy theories and biased new stories that have had to be corrected because of factual errors. We have always been transparent about our plans for the property.
Alliance Metals USA, a new property owner in the county, is ready to be a community minded employer and a good neighbor. We will safeguard air and water quality and bring new jobs to La Paz and the McMullen Valley. We want to answer our neighbors concerns and questions as the approval process for our facility moves forward.
We hope our investment will also open the door to more employers bringing jobs and investing in La Paz County.
We know that economic development is a priority for the Board of Supervisors and La Paz County’s small businesses, workers and residents.
We hope to be given a chance to earn the trust and confidence of the community as we generate critical jobs and tax revenue that will benefit all.
Here’s what Alliance Metals is not sharing
by Wenden Water Improvement District Board President Gary Saiter
Here are some important details that Alliance Metals and Mr. Barton are not sharing:
On September 4th, 2019, ADEQ conducted a public hearing at the Community Center in Wenden. It was the culmination of a 30-day public comment period as part of Alliance’s application for an Air Quality Control permit. Attending were about 150 local citizens and most of the senior management of La Paz County. Approximately a dozen people signed up to speak. Every speaker expressed opposition to the aluminum recycling smelter development. Not one person spoke in support of it, not even company representatives who were in attendance.
Both the Wenden Elementary School Board and the Wenden Water District Board passed motions to officially oppose this development once they became aware of the potential hazards. These two boards represent the only elected officials in Wenden. (These two boards were never contacted about the proposal of this project prior to locating to the town.)
Locating a secondary aluminum smelter in a populated area violates all of the rules of modern zoning and planning. No consideration was given to the social, and environmental impact to its location. The EPA labels such facilities as a “major source of hazardous air pollutants.” This kind of operation should be located at least 25 miles from a population center. Alliance Metals location is within Wenden town limits, 0.34 miles from the closest home, 0.75 miles from the elementary school and the entire town of Wenden is within 1.0 mile of the proposed smelter location. This is a concern for several reasons.
Stated in the company’s application to ADEQ and in the Draft Permit ADEQ is considering, the facility will emit nitrogen oxides, particulate matter, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, lead and hazardous air pollutants including dioxins and furans. The total amount of hazardous emissions will be up to 35 tons per year, as stated in ADEQ’s Technical Review and that’s even with all the emission control measures that the company touts, applied. Currently, 35-tons of those pollutants do not foul the air in McMullen Valley. Any discussion about the pollution that the cotton gin caused in the valley is a moot point since it has been years since there was a cotton gin on that property that was in operation. In any event, cotton gins do not emit dioxins.
Additionally, the facility will use and store 30,000 gallons of chlorine. (This is an extremely large amount of chlorine). We have done air dispersion models of the area using EPA software created to assess risk. In the event of an accident that causes a catastrophic release of chlorine, assuming a 10 mph wind blowing toward the east, a cloud with the concentration of 4,000 parts of chlorine per million will cover the entire town of Wenden in less than six minutes. According to the CDC, a concentration of 4,000 parts per million is immediately lethal. A recent chlorine leak in a Chandler industrial park shows just how dangerous chlorine can be. It caused the evacuation of area businesses and disrupted traffic. That leak was from a puncture of the container holding 1,500 pounds or about 150 gallons of chlorine. The amount of chlorine that would be kept at this facility is to be 300,000 pounds, 200 times more than the leak in Chandler.
According to documents submitted to ADEQ with Alliance Metals application and as reported by ADEQ, this facility will receive and process aluminum dross. Also a waste byproduct of the process is the creation of salt cake. This material contains aluminum oxides, metallic aluminum, carbides, nitrides, sulphides and phosphides. Salt cake is considered a hazardous material by the EPA and is highly toxic to living organisms. Based on the numbers submitted with their application, the facility will produce 192,720 pounds of the material. If not handled correctly, it can leach into the ground water, which would be disastrous for McMullen Valley. The valley has only one source of water for people, livestock and agriculture. It is the 512 square mile aquifer under the valley. If that becomes contaminated, it would kill the valley.
With regard to Mr. Barton’s remark about trucks: “There will only be a couple of trucks per hour passing through the facility.” I can only go back to the information they submitted to ADEQ. The facility will be operating 24/7. They will be processing 87,600 tons of ingots and bars per year. That’s 7,300 tons or 14.6 million pounds per month. That equates to 365 20-ton trucks per month on the secondary roads of Wenden and Salome.
The company continues to talk about jobs so let’s examine that for a minute. According to the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, over 22% of people working in aluminum smelting operations develop “potroom” asthma, COPD, pulmonary issues and/or cancer within the first two years of employment. To put that into perspective, if the company were to actually hire 30 people, as they say, seven of those people would develop health conditions or disease that would stay with them the rest of their lives. It hardly seems worth the risk for a few jobs.
With regard to taxes, they like to discuss how their increased taxes would help. First off we must remember that their estimates are just that, estimates. Undeniably, increased tax income is always appreciated but let’s put it in perspective. In order to make the tax contribution sound larger than it actually is, Alliance has decided to show the number over a 10-year period. The annual tax revenue from the property, according to their figures is $71,478. Only a little over 16% goes to the County. That’s just a bit over $11,000 per year. On a County budget of almost $36 million, that represents just .03% of the County’s budget. The figure going to Wenden Elementary is slightly over 1% of the schools annual budget. As far as taxes for Arizona Western College, very few people in Wenden or Salome use their services since the nearest branch is in Parker, 60 miles from Wenden with their main campus being in Yuma, 148 miles away. The increased tax income is not worth the risk that this facility brings to McMullen Valley, and remember the Wenden school board voted to oppose this development at it’s proposed location.
There are other issues around the location of this smelter such as 40% of the property being in a flood plain where there have been three 100-year floods since 2000. The fact that it is on the edge of a land subsidence bowel, which will increase flooding, and that almost 10% of the property is on National Wetlands as declared by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is also of concern.
I would welcome Alliance Metals and their operation to La Paz County and encourage their development, just not in the middle of a population center but in a more appropriate location. Secondary aluminum smelter operations do not go well with agriculture or population centers and the benefits that Alliance Metals talks about are simply not worth the risk.