Around Arizona: Southern Exposure

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We’ll take a look at big issues from the southern portion of Arizona with Tucson Weekly Senior Writer Jim Nintzel.

Ted Simons: Every month we bring you up to date on issues south of the Gila in our series Southern Exposure. Tonight we look at a variety of issues including the flood of unaccompanied minors being transferred to Nogales. Here now is Jim Nintzel, senior writer for the Tucson Weekly joins us. Good to see you.

Jim Nintzel: Wonderful to be here.

Ted Simons: The whole country is watching what's happening here. The Nogales detention center, the border patrol Nogales placement center, what's the latest down there?

Jim Nintzel: They are still trying to sort out what they are going to do. They have about 1,300 unaccompanied minor of all ages. It's a real mess. To try to figure out what you do with these kids who are in this country. We had a piece on the weekly today an account from somebody from what's called the border action knelt work in Tucson who had a tour of the facility. She was talking about how heartbreaking it was to walk around in this facility, which is really designed to house criminals, and seeing all these children in these different little cages essentially. You know, you have teen moms in there with their infant children trying to handle the stress of being here and next you'll have another federal department coming in to try to figure out how to take these kids and reunite them with family members here in the states.

Ted Simons: The reaction from southern Arizona residents now, what are they saying down there? Are we seeing protests? Are we seeing efforts from local leaders to try to take care of these kids? Good luck with that, they are in federal custody. What's happening down there?

Jim Nintzel: Not so much protests but there's an effort among local officials to find ways to try to make their lives a little better. Find ways to make sure that they have the supplies they need. You have local nonprofits trying to gather materials for that. Make sure they are well-fed, well-clothed and will being taken care of.

Ted Simons: Is any of this fodder for the Barber McSally congressional race down there?

Jim Nintzel: Neither one has come out with a lot of conversation about this particular point at this juncture.

Ted Simons: We'll wait and see. Nationally it seems like a huge story but there's a limit to what you can do because of the federal nature of the issue.

Jim Nintzel: Exactly. They have to figure out where do these kids go next. I talked with a state lawmaker who had toured the facility and he said what basically will happen they will try to find relatives here and put them into those households rather than trying to adjudicate them to the legal system.

Ted Simons: Let's move on now to the Rosemont mine. What is the Rosemont mine, where is it planned to be located and what is the latest on that proposed facility?

Jim Nintzel: It's a massive copper mine that's proposed in the Santa Rita mountains, southwest of Tucson in a really beautiful, pristine area of southern Arizona. There's a lot of concern among our local officials about the impact of a mile wide open pit mine being opened up down there both on the water quality and the water supplies in southern Arizona as well as impact on tourism, impact on the state highway that all the trucks will be moving down. The local officials for the most part are opposed but it's a federal issue. The federal government is the one that has the role of approving or not approving the mine. It's very difficult for the federal government to say no to something like this, however the mine thought it would be in operation already. They said they would have their permits in place by the ends of this month. That's not going to happen because now the Environmental Protection Agency has raised red flags about the impact on the waterways down there. The fish and wildlife service is raising red flags on the impact of endangered species. We have spotted jaguars, there's an ocelot in that area. There's a lot more hurdles coming up for the Canadian company that owns this mine to jump through and they have some problems because they face a hostile takeover. This is the first time they have tried a mine on this level, and there's another mining company in Canada that's trying to do a hostile takeover of this company. A lot left to be sorted out before this mine opens up.

Ted Simons: I know there's got to be someone down there for this thing. Jobs, economy; how much of an impact would a mile wide open copper mine make in the southern Arizona region?

Jim Nintzel: You do have the chamber of commerce, a handful of Republican politicians saying this is good for the community and they are fighting on behalf of it saying it will create thousands of jobs and a ripple effect will create thousands of jobs and be a boon to the economy.

Ted Simons: Can Rosemont keep amending their proposal to placate the EPA or Army Core of engineers? How far along in the process are we, how far in the process can you still go?

Jim Nintzel: They thought they would be done by now. They are not. They have had been amending it. They say these are just bumps in the road, they can continue to find ways to mitigate the damage they are going to do to the aquifer and eventually the federal agencies will say yes and opponents say that's not going to happen, the EPA is going to stop this thing. Whether this permit gets issued or not I expect lawsuits will be filed to either say it shouldn't have been issued or it should have been issued. I suspect the whole thing is going to court.

Ted Simons: There's a development planned for Sierra Vista put on hold by a judge. We talked about this in the past regarding water issues. Talk about this in particular the impact on the San Pedro River and this development in Sierra Vista. The judge made an interesting ruling.

Jim Nintzel: He did. The first time a judge has stepped in and said, you do not have this 100-year assured water supply that you need to show without causing significant damage to the flow of the San Pedro River, which is one of the last waterways that are still flowing in southern Arizona. There's great concern about whether or not all these new homes would cause such drainage to the aquifer that it would impact the flow of the river. That's also connects to Fort Huachuca. The fort has been working hard to try to conserve more water. They also depend on the continued flow of the San Pedro because the federal government wants to see that river keep going and if there's problems with that then you could have ripple effect to the fort where people are saying, let's not admissions to the fort or let's close the fort down in a worst case scenario because of the environmental damage.

Ted Simons: We should mention again, the curiosity here with the judge's ruling isn't so much the 100-year plan isn't met, you may have the plan but look what it is doing to a flowing, existing river.

Jim Nintzel: Right. I think that's a very unique case here in Arizona. We'll see where this goes.

Ted Simons: What about the reaction in southern Arizona? The San Pedro, we hear so much about it, it's a beautiful river, bird watching, wildlife. Is it a beloved area? Are people aware of what's planned down there?

Jim Nintzel: I don't think they are still aware in Tucson but in Sierra Vista they are. It's a flash point. There are people who support it because they say the economic activity is good for the community and there are people who oppose it because they are concerned about the environmental impact.

Ted Simons: Last question regarding the San Pedro River, is that kind of like a beloved area in southern Arizona? How do residents feel?

Jim Nintzel: It is definitely a beloved area. Very important again to the tourism industry, birdwatchers come down there; other eco-tourists come into that area, very similar in some respects to the debate over the mine.

Ted Simons: Before you go, the U of A is taking part in the OSIRIS-Rex asteroid mission. It's fascinating.

Jim Nintzel: Really incredible mission that the U of A managed to land, a $1 billion project they are in the process of building a spacecraft that will take off from earth, go up into the orbit around an asteroid, circle around it for a year and a half, then get up close to it, give it a kiss, blast it with some carbon dioxide, capture some of the fragments that come off of it in a capsule, send that back to earth. It will land in the Utah desert ten years from now and scientists will have a sample so they can find out more about asteroids.

Ted Simons: Scheduled to launch fall of 2016, hitting the asteroid like 2018. This is ten years from now we get results out of this thing.

Jim Nintzel: It is amazing when you think about all the math involved alone. Pretty tough stuff. I just find the U of A's contribution to the space program remarkable. This is another step in that direction.

Ted Simons: Remarkable. How much interest -- you go to Tucson you mentioned U of A, all anyone wants to talk about is basketball. Do they have close to the same level of interest in something like space missions?

Jim Nintzel: They do. Science is a huge thing in southern Arizona. They do these lectures with the U of A College of Science in the spring once a week and they fill up centennial hall to hear what the lecturers have to say. There is tremendous interest in science down there. This is going to be another feather in our cap.

Ted Simons: We got to keep an eye on the Sierra Vista development, on the Nogales detention center, and as far as Rosemont, that thing, again, that doesn't sound very good. They don't sound like they are in a very good position right now.

Jim Nintzel: I think they did not expect all these delays. There are some concerns among opponents of the mine or hopes among the opponents of the mine perhaps that the company will run out of money. They have had some real problems with cash flow. They managed to get another loan released recently that's given them more operating capital but they are on the edge financially.

Ted Simons: All right, Jim, always a pleasure, the latest from southern Arizona. Thank you so much.

Jim Nintzel: It's a pleasure to come up.

Jim Nintzel:Senior Writer, Tucson Weekly;

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