The La Paz County Planning & Zoning Commission voted unanimously to deny recommendation of a zoning change that would allow Alliance Metals to open an aluminum smelting plant in the town of Wenden. The recommendation to deny will now go to the Board of Supervisors for a binding decision.
The Commission had several items on its agenda before the two items on Alliance Metals. One of them involved re-zoning of the property to allow industrial use, the other was a proposed minor change to the County’s Comprehensive Plan which would allow the re-zone.
Well over a hundred people were in attendance at the meeting, and at public comment time, many of them were ready to give their opinion. Largely, those opinions were negative, and were sometimes aggressively delivered, with vocal reactions from the crowd and cheering.
Tom Galvin, an attorney representing Alliance Metals, gave a presentation first about the benefits of the plant, including an investment of $30 million in the County, good, well-paying jobs and $66,000 per year in tax revenues.
“We just want to thank all of you for your time and consideration, we’re really happy that all of you have showed up so that we can provide you an unfiltered message of what this application really is, and the impact and benefit it will have for La Paz County.”
Galvin said the cotton gin that was on the property before was a “way more intensive use” than the proposed plant, which would recycle existing aluminum scrap into aluminum that can be used again by manufacturers such as Apple, who are committed to buying secondary aluminum.
“This project has passed the restrictions and regulations by the state, and is also under federal review per the EPA. Alliance Metals is willing to stipulate to an annual third-party inspection monitored by the County to ensure safe operations and optimal air and water quality.”
To address the question of why the location was chosen, Galvin said it is adjacent to Highway 60, with an APS power supply, a water well, a gas line dissecting the property, it’s a previously disturbed land with existing buildings, is surrounded by farmland, is between two communities with a potential workforce, and a railroad is nearby too.
An environmental consultant acting on behalf of the company then addressed some of the environmental concerns, saying that the proposed operations do not pose a threat to residents.
“There’s lots of types of air permits that are out there. The largest permits are called PSD permits, those are for facilities that emit over 250 tons per year, just one pollutant, they’re out there in Arizona. There’s the Class 1 permit, major sources that emit over 100 tons per year of one pollutant. […] There’s also Class 2 permitting sources, we call these minor sources. And this Alliance project in fact is a minor source. It is the lowest level of air permitting out there because their emissions are so low.”
Some in the crowd were vocalizing skepticism as the representatives were speaking, and it was their turn next. Parker Live listened and has reproduced at some length some of the responses below.
A woman came to read her statement first:
“I am here to say that I strongly object to amending the La Paz County Comprehensive Plan. The plan was put into place to guide the future development in La Paz County, its Number One goal being to, quote, ‘to maintain the rural character of La Paz County.’ […] The Comprehensive Plan does not recommend industrial development between the residential towns of Salome and Wenden. Instead it says … quote, ‘Protect the existing and continual agricultural uses of the McMulley Valley.’ According to the Plan, industrial development belongs along the Vicksburg growth corridor. […] This was and must remain the La Paz County vision of our future growth. If you amend the Comprehensive Plan, not only will residents’ quality of life be jeopardized, but Salome and Wenden property values will potentially take a dive. Current residents and snowbirds will move away. Harmful pollutants in the air from any industry are a danger to the agricultural fields in this area and to the residents and homes nearby. And why would you ever even consider putting your industrial zone in a partial flood plain? This part of the county is much better suited for agriculture […] Do not change your La Paz County Comprehensive Plan by doing spot-zoning.”
A man who says he has a background in wastewater treatment and water treatment asked about the containment of slag and wastewater. “Is it going to be treated?” he asked. “And in what kind of ponds?” He expressed skepticism about being able to keep the aquifer contaminant-free.
Later, Galvin responded that slag will be removed from the property on a daily basis, and that the County can control the conditional use of the site and restrict how the company is allowed to operate.
A pilot who complained about the condition of roads, and said if the county can’t keep roads clear they won’t be able to contain an industrial plant, spoke for the crowd.
“You kinda gotta know, nobody’s in favor of this,” he said. “Somebody told me 250 seats are here, how many are occupied by people who want this plant? Okay, I see no raised hands, how many don’t want the plant and want to raise their hands? [Raised hands and cheering]”
A 65-year resident of the McMullen Valley:
“Right now our area is a beautiful area, I would invite anybody to come here and live. We don’t have a problem right now and if we don’t change the Comprehensive Plan we’re not going to have a problem. We don’t need to worry about hazmat training and all this type of stuff. The closest hazmat facility to La Paz County is in Buckeye, Arizona. Not a single fire department in La Paz County has a true hazmat team, okay?”
La Paz County Assessor Anna Camacho said it did not “look good to me”, because the packet she saw was confusing and lacking information, and accused the company of not paying their property taxes. “You did not pay your taxes,” she said to a response from the crowd.
Galvin later responded to Camacho, saying the company had paid its taxes on December 2nd with a deadline of December 31st.
Camacho then reportedly texted the County Treasurer, Leah Castro, who responded that her office had not received the company’s taxes yet.
Gary Zak, a resident for 30 years and former candidate for District 3 County Supervisor, says the company should have been told when they were purchasing property in 2018 which properties in the County were suitable for their plant:
“It’s a shame that we have to be here at all today,” he said. “The individuals that the county has entrusted to aid us in our economic development, the La Paz Economic Development Corporation, should have advised Alliance Metals from the start that this location for a smelter plant was not appropriate for their type of business, which is clearly outlined in our Comprehensive Plan that was developed for the County at taxpayers’ expense. […] What I don’t understand from all this is how a company could spend over a million dollars on a piece of property without even knowing if the zoning changes would go through so to open the business. For me, that only leaves me with two explanations. Either Alliance Metals had no clue to what the zoning implications were, which is a complete oversight and a horrible business mistake, or someone promised that the zoning changes would not be an issue, go ahead and purchase the property, start making [inaudible over cheering]. As far as I know, there are currently no areas in District 3 in La Paz County designated for heavy industrial usage. I’m not against these type of businesses moving into La Paz County but we must follow the guidelines in the Plan that we have in place to direct these businesses to the areas in the La Paz County zone for that usage.”
Another member of the community talked about the application by the company:
“The following are missed required items on Alliance’s Comprehensive Plan amendment application. It’s missing a flood plain panel number, a flood zone designation, a vicinity map, a site map, a survey of the property with legal description, a deed of ownership, a description of the proposed amendment, if text a comparison of the existing text to the proposed text, if a map amendment a map showing the proposed designation and existing designation of surrounding properties.”
A man said the Plan should not be changed for individual companies:
“I don’t think the Comprehensive Plan should be amended on a lot per lot basis. It’s supposed to be comprehensive. If we do that it’s not comprehensive anymore and I believe that’s short-sighted.”
Someone else spoke up to say that the question is not about Alliance Metals, but about the industrial use of that particular property:
“Your goal right now is not necessarily to say, is Alliance Metals good or bad, at this point right now, should we change our Plan to allow industrial development in this area? The answer is no. You have areas that are laid out for industrial development down in Vicksburg and other areas closer to Parker and they’re already laid out and set aside. The rush to put this plan in place, I have a firm belief that is because of the gas line in the area, otherwise they have no other way to get gas into their plant if they don’t pick this site. That’s one of the pressures that’s being put on to change this.”
Another man was chastised by the Chair for being disrespectful when he said, “You guys are liars. There’s no doubt about it. You shut people out of your website. When you have an attorney coming up to speak for you, you don’t even have the guts to speak for yourself, it doesn’t go over well in this community.”
He went on to comment:
“You guys would never put it next to your house. We all live right here, this is our community. Quit it. Just go where you belong, it doesn’t belong here. I know it, you know it, everyone out here knows it. It’s time to just move to where you’re supposed to be.”
Ultimately, the Commission chose to deny recommendation of either change to the Board of Supervisors, who will make the final decision.
Parker Live received multiple emails from Alliance Metals’ public relations firm Friday, calling the Commission’s decision “unusual, irregular and unprecedented” and saying that the decision to hold the meeting outside of Parker was an effort to “stack the deck” against the company.
The firm also said that the Arizona Manufacturers Council is “strongly supporting” Alliance Metals’ proposal, passing along a letter the council is sending to the Board of Supervisors in support.