Is aluminum smelter with jobs, tax revenue too good to be true?

By Shawn Byrne

Editor

Communities where 1 in 4 live under the poverty level usually clamor for a business to bring in 30 year-round jobs, but it’s not always the case.

Folks in Wenden and Salome are voicing their opinions to keep a secondary aluminum smelter from operating just to the southwest of the Town of Wenden proper.

Technocon International, dba Alliance Metals Southwest LLC, sees its purchase at 70050 U.S. 60 in Wenden as a win-win. The company says the location is perfect for what it wants to accomplish, and the Wenden area would benefit from the investments, jobs, and tax revenue the plant would bring.

“Our client really wants to be there,” said Tom Galvin of Rose Law Group, the firm representing Alliance on the zoning with La Paz County. “They believe the site is perfectly situated between Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Phoenix, Denver and Mexico. They need a good location to transport to its clients.”

The site has housed cotton gins in the past, and Alliance is prepared to invest around $30 million to get it up to speed as a secondary aluminum smelter.

The process

According to the process description given by Alliance to Arizona Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ), trucks are going to enter the facility carrying scrap aluminum, which will be loaded onto a receiving bay. A front-end loader will move the scrap from the receiving bay to a feed hopper. The scrap will then be loaded into a series a crushers and a screen, and sent through an x-ray machine so the scrap can be analyzed and locate alloys that cannot be processed, which will be separated.

The scrap will then be melted in a rotary furnace, and vaporized chlorine will be injected into the molten aluminum to remove magnesium impurities. Once the aluminum is purified, it is then poured into ingots and T-bars.

Alliance’s air quality permit is still in the draft stage, as ADEQ continues its process to determine whether to approve or deny it.

“These type of permits are not unusual,” said Erin Jordan, public information officer for ADEQ. “We have 88 of these types of permits issued, including six in La Paz County.”

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency oversees Maricopa, Pinal and Pima counties in Arizona, and ADEQ oversees the remaining 12 counties in Arizona. The 88 permits Jordan spoke of are only those in the other 12 counties.

ADEQ held a public comment period, which culminated Sept. 4 with a public hearing at the Centennial Community Center in Wenden. In addition to those who spoke there, Jordan said ADEQ received in excess of 50 emails regarding the project. As part of the process, ADEQ will respond to each comment.

“The team is being very deliberate because of the high public interest,” Jordan said. “I don’t expect it (final permit) within the next month.”

The smelter has to pass a double-permitting situation. It not only has to get the permit from ADEQ, but it also needs the approval of the La Paz County Board of Supervisors.

The property that Alliance purchased is currently zoned for agriculture. The company is going in front of the La Paz County Planning and Zoning Commission on Nov. 7 for a Conditional Use Permit (CUP), according to a social media post by District 3 Supervisor Holly Anderson-Irwin.

“I have requested staff when this is placed on the agenda for Planning & Zoning for this meeting to take place at the community center,” Anderson-Irwin wrote in the post. “Some folks have a hard time making it up to Parker for meetings.”

Parker is about 60 miles from Wenden.

The company said it is pursuing a CUP versus a hard rezone because a CUP would provide the county with more regulation power over a specific use on the property.

“The county will have more control with the granting of a CUP as it will allow the county the authority to shut down the operation IF the use has any type of violation or noncompliance issue,” The company wrote in a statement to the Sun. “A hard rezone allows for a variety of industrial uses without conditions.”

The neighbors

Alliance Metals has promised in a series of letters to the editor to multiple newspapers that it just wants to be a good neighbor and a community partner by bringing its smelter to Wenden.

“Our goal, our promise, is to be a good neighbor that will create jobs and tax revenue while safeguarding the environment in a beautiful part of Arizona,” wrote Alliance Metals Vice President Loren Barton in a Letter to the Editor to The Sun.

Alliance Metals hasn’t convinced a large, vocal contingent of residents who are concerned about the plant being in Wenden.

“We love it for La Paz County, but not in the middle of a population center,” said Gary Saiter, who is both chairman of the Wenden Water Improvement District Board and president of Wenden Elementary School Board. “There are places in La Paz County zoned for that already.”

Vicksburg Road between U.S. 60 and Interstate 10 is zoned for heavy industrial use, but the company has purchased the property in Wenden.

Saiter said there were about 150 people at the Sept. 4 meeting who were against bringing the smelter to Wenden, and the Salome Community Board on Facebook has a lot of voices that are concerned about it. There are also several people who have spoken in favor of the smelter on the Salome Community board page, including a pair of business owners who would like to do business with Alliance.

“There are health and environmental risks,” Saiter said. “Those are the main concerns.”

Alliance understands there are community members who are anxious, but it is assuring everyone between it, ADEQ and La Paz County, those worries can be put to rest.

“This is going to be a state of the art modern facility,” Galvin of Rose Law Group said. “It won’t be able to get up and running unless it gets ADEQ approval. Folks have to trust the process the state has in place, and if the state says it has done everything, then the company has earned the permit.”

ADEQ

Saiter isn’t only frustrated with Alliance’s attempts for a smelter in Wenden; he isn’t pleased with ADEQ’s testing method during the draft permit process. ADEQ had to use atmospheric, wind disbursement and meteorological testing from locations other than Wenden and Salome, such as Aguila, Lake Alamo, Tucson and Blythe, California, because site-specific data could not be made available. Saiter said there are enough differences between the sites that leave ADEQ’s results to be in question.

What worries Saiter and other community members is the amount of chlorine that will be on the site. Chlorine can be deadly, which is why it was used as a chemical weapon in World War I. The Global Public Policy Institute reported that the Syrian government used chlorine as a chemical weapon this decade in that country’s civil war.

The company says it has the expertise to ensure the safety of its employees and the community, and ADEQ will be there to make certain Alliance is operating correctly.

“Loren Barton has been involved for 10 to 12 years,” Galvin said. “They are very well-experienced in doing this.”

Community members like Saiter are concerned about the small probability of a catastrophic accident.

“Let’s assume these are the best people in the business,” Saiter said. “There are two industries that are watched, monitored and controlled all the time: the U.S. space and nuclear industries. They have accidents.

“It just takes one forklift guy making a wrong turn and piercing a tank.”

The original published public notice, draft permit, and technical support document can be found at https://bit.ly/2kPo5y2.

Editor's Note: This story was changed to show Alliance Metals made the statement regarding a conditional use permit.

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