/ Modified feb 20, 2024 5:48 p.m.

Santa Cruz County greenlights consultant for Hermosa Mine Project, sparks debate on environmental priorities

Stephanie Smith’s appointment calls for a pause, demanding a thorough evaluation of Hermosa Mine’s community and environmental impact

South32 Entrance The entrance of the South32 Hermosa mine site, a critical minerals project that looks to source manganese and zinc.
Katya Mendoza, AZPM News

The Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a professional services contract for Stephanie Smith, a consultant tasked with managing the FAST-41 federal permitting process for the South32 Hermosa Mine Project.

Smith is a former real estate developer and project manager, who has a Masters of Science in Urban Planning from the University of Arizona with an environmental concentration and a Masters degree in architecture from Harvard.

She will serve as an intermediary between the county board of supervisors, county manager Jesus Valdez, and South32 mining executives.

The position has two primary responsibilities, coordinating the county’s involvement in the Hermosa Project’s FAST-41 National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process.

Under Title 41 of the federal Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act, known as FAST-41, this designation ensures a more transparent and predictable federal environmental review and permitting process.

Santa Cruz County holds the designation of a “Stakeholder Community” and must respond to the FAST-41 NEPA process as directed by the United States Forest Service (USFS), with specific details that have yet to be determined.

This work will involve communication with federal agencies, coordinating stakeholder and constituent engagement efforts, and collaborating with technical experts.

Additionally, Smith will be responsible for developing a Good Neighbor Agreement (GNA) aimed at establishing a standard for transparency and public accountability, outlining expectations and guidelines in the county’s best interest.

This includes overseeing a Community Capacity Assessment, implementation of a Mining Impact Database and impact rating system, the performance of Geographic Information Systems (GIS), and Geospatial Data Analysis.

Smith will receive an annual salary of $80,000 from the County General Fund. Her contract will run through February 2026, unless the work is completed before that.

During the board of supervisors’ meeting, residents from the county submitted public commentary ahead of the vote, requesting an extension to further deliberate the proposed contract.

Carolyn Shafer, with the Patagonia Area Resource Alliance (PARA), requested the postponement of the contractual agreement citing ongoing developments, particularly emphasizing the need for a meeting between the county and town of Patagonia to discuss the NEPA process and potential protections and benefits agreement.

Shafer mentioned that at Wednesday’s advisory panel meeting for the South32 Hermosa Project, what has been known as the “agreement working group” will recommend to the panel that the agreement should be handed off to the potential signatories, Santa Cruz County, and the town of Patagonia.

Beth Pirl, with the Calabasas Alliance, said that the Good Neighbor Agreement is only as good as the good faith of the signatory parties and as a contract between parties.

Robin Lucky, president of the Calabasas Alliance expressed support for PARA’s request to focus on the NEPA process stating that data capturing and GIS mapping may not be the best use of county resources currently.

South32 is an AZPM underwriter. They have no editorial control over our content.

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