The federal Bureau of Land Management has said it has no immediate plans to clear the way for residential development at a northeast Mesa mine, opening the door for people on both sides of the issue to craft their own plans for the site.
Red Mountain Mining Co. has mined decorative rock from the 200-acre property, leased from the BLM, since 1973. In January, it bought a 200-acre ranch about 50 miles north of the Valley to trade for the mine property.
This would give ownership of the Mesa land to the company, which in turn plans to sell the land for high-end residential development.
Phoenix BLM field office manager Teri Raml said in a June 28 letter to interested parties that the agency has been seeking information on the proposed trade.
"At this time, however, the BLM plans to take no action regarding this property," Raml wrote.
But it’s a qualified no. BLM is still mapping out the future of its 1.5 million acres in central Arizona, the letter said.
"We haven’t made any decisions," said Marlynn Spears, assistant field manager for lands and mining in the BLM’s Phoenix office. "It’s all proposed, and it’s still just that, a proposal."
Matt Winkler, a spokesman for the Just Say No group formed by about 300 Red Mountain Ranch residents opposing the trade, said he was encouraged by Raml’s letter and subsequent conversations with BLM officials.
He said he is setting up meetings with local hiking, biking and equestrian groups, as well as government agencies, to help put together a plan for what residents hope will be a trailhead to help users access the wilderness to the north, as well a "staging area" for races and other events.
"You can’t just say no, you’ve got to have some idea about what you want to do instead," he said.
Meanwhile, mining company president Dale Longbrake said he’s putting together a preliminary plan for housing on the land as he continues to pursue a trade.
He said the new ranch is at the heart of the Agua Fria National Monument and would make an ideal visitor center for the 71,100-acre monument, which stretches along Interstate 17 beginning north of Black Canyon City.
Longbrake said he doesn’t favor the vision Winkler and other residents have for the site, because it would likely end up "a dumping ground or a party place, like so many of the vacant areas around town."
The land is near its peak real estate value, he said, adding that if he fails to secure a land trade, mining could continue for years beyond the 2015 end date in the property’s current mining plan.