The Joint Environmental Task Force has spent the better part of a decade essentially fighting for two causes: to define the health threat posed by air pollutants due to sand and gravel mining operations, and to create a buffer zone between the mines and where people live.
So when Senate Bill 1598 was introduced, JETF Treasurer Richard Wehbe said he was excited.
“The way this thing was presented to us is that it creates a buffer zone,” he said. “But when you read it, that does not seem to be the case.”
Task Force Member Lyle Tuttle said he has been poring over the bill and had a lengthy conversation with one of the bill’s supporters. Essentially, he said, the bill would revise statutes to require individual municipalities to include policies protecting against incompatible land uses, and new language concerning aggregate mining has been added.
“In effect it would require cities to create a buffer zone around mining or domestic areas, whichever is there first,” Tuttle said. “But some things need to be addressed.”
The biggest concern task force members said they had with the bill is that it requires nothing specific.
“It does not create a buffer, it tells cities to create a policy. They decide the buffer,” Tuttle said. “So it is possible that a municipality could decide a buffer of 10 feet is OK.”
Task Force Chairwoman Shirley McDonald said the vague language needs to be changed.
“Something like 10 feet just would not be acceptable,” she said. “If a buffer zone is going to be set, it needs to be outside the area where a health threat exists. This has to be more specific.”
Tuttle suggested the task force reach out to local legislators, including Judy Burges of Skull Valley, R-District 4, who is a co-sponsor of the bill, to request changes before it is too late.
“They have something like 1,400 bills down at the Legislature,” he said. “They have no money and no time, but they have 1,400 bills to deal with. This thing could just go right through if we’re not careful. We need to act on this right away.”
Far from being discouraged, however, Tuttle said SB 1598 is a step in the right direction.
The Joint Environmental Task Force will meet at 1 p.m. March 8 in the PORA offices, 13815 Camino del Sol in Sun City West. To view SB 1598 in its entirety, visit www.azleg.gov/legtext/50leg/1r/bills/sb1598p.pdf.
Jeff Dempsey may be reached at 623-876-2531 or firstname.lastname@example.org.