About a dozen residents in Pine mounted a protest Wednesday against the fourth explosion of the year near their homes.
The explosions are part of a blasting project by Payson Concrete on acreage owned by Muleshoe X, a family partnership. The properties are all located in the southern section of Pine.
The project's aim is to mine granite, which Payson Concrete, a long-standing Rim country sand and gravel operation, markets.
Protesters carried pickets signs and shouted "stop the blasting." Also present were more than 30 people, including representatives from the Gila County Trails Alliance, Payson Packers, Arizona State Mine Inspector's office, Pine-Strawberry Fire Department and seven officers from the Gila County Sheriff's Department.
"We received information that someone was going to get onto the blast site," sheriff's Sgt. Craig Smith said.
"We are here to ensure public safety and enforce the law," Smith told the group.
Protesters were permitted to congregate, but not allowed to trespass.
First, those present felt the earth rumble, making a sound very similar to monsoon thunder rolling overhead. In just a matter of seconds 108 charges were set off in 54 holes, breaking up the hard granite that makes up most of the area.
This blast was mild by comparison to earlier experiences, said Louise Middleton.
Middleton lives right next door to the mine, with only a 280-foot buffer of trees between her home and the dynamite.
She stayed inside for the Wednesday blast, along with her guest, structural engineer Robert Baldinger of Gervasio and Associates.
Baldinger's company has been hired by Blasting Contractors' insurance company to inspect Middleton's home.
Blasting Contractors', a 'top hand' in this business according to State Mine Inspector Phil Howard, is the company contracted by Payson Concrete to orchestrate the blasting.
About 10 homes in the area have been inspected for damage that homeowners claim is a result of the blasting, Baldinger said.
Blasting protected by law
The Wednesday blast came on the heels of the County Attorney's Office opinion that the Pine mining operation, south of Bradshaw Road and east of Sharyn Drive, is legal.
"They are mining on 12 acres, they are commercial meaning that they are engaged in commerce. It doesn't mean they are zoned commercial," Deputy County Attorney Mark Gunning said.
In fact the acreage is zoned residential, another fact that has neighbors seeing red.
"Nothing in the planning and zoning can be applied here. They are covered by the exemption," Gunning said.
The exemption he referred to was Arizona Revised Statute 11-830, which states; "Nothing contained in any ordinance shall . . . prevent restrict or otherwise regulate the use or occupation of land or improvements for railroad, mining, metallurgical, grazing or general agricultural purposes if the tract concerned is five or more contiguous commercial acres."
This exemption reflects Arizona public policy, Gunning explained. It promotes and protects the things that made Arizona a state, he said, naming the four C's taught to Arizona history students: Copper, Cattle, Citrus and Cotton. Agriculture and mining are a part of the state's foundation, he said.
Law no deterrent to further action
In spite of the county attorney's decision, area residents have circulated a petition against the operation, citing current residential zoning; excess dust, noise and traffic, property damage from the blasting, declining property values because of the ongoing operation and the loss of the natural beauty of the trees that used to occupy the mining area.
Some residents are looking into filing an injunction in an attempt to permanently stop the operation.
If an injunction is filed, a judge may issue a temporary restraining order and provide the residents a 10-day window of opportunity to present their case, Gunning said.
As for now the operation will continue, Robert Randall said. Randall is a partner in both Muleshoe X and Payson Concrete.
The current blasting contract is for 100,000 yards of material, Randall said. About 20,000 to 30,000 yards has been produced so far. The blasting should be about half done, he added.
"It just depends on how much material we need," Randall said, leaving the duration of the project in question.
The current buffer zone of existing trees will be left he said.
Traffic complaints are also being addressed, he said.
"We'll either trade (the Robbie and John Wertin) property or we take a road down the other side. We want to do whatever is best for them," Randall said.
The Wertin home is on Bradshaw and currently blasting contractors and Payson Concrete trucks have been using their property to access the mine to avoid using the more residential Sharyn Drive.
Randall offered to trade the property to avoid creating a new road that would be much closer to the Wertin home and alleviate potential liability problems for the Wertins back in January. To date, however, no paperwork has been brought to the Wertins and the exchange has not taken place.
The Muleshoe X property is also the subject of lease negotiations with Brooke Utilities, in connection with a reservoir project to address water issues in Pine, Randall said.
"If (Brooke) wants to put storage tanks up here, we'll have a site for him," Randall said.