Here's my original June 15 email to supervisor Searle:

"County government may declare a 'local emergency,' under ARS 26-301(10), when 'conditions of disaster or of extreme peril ... within ... a county ... are or are likely to be beyond the control of the services, personnel, equipment and facilities of such political subdivision as determined by its governing body and ... require the combined efforts of other political subdivisions.'


"Under ARS 26-311(A), if 'an emergency exists due to ... any other natural or man-made calamity or disaster ... which endanger[s] life or property within ... the unincorporated areas of the county ... the ... chairman of the board of supervisors, if authorized by ordinance or resolution, may by proclamation declare an emergency or a local emergency to exist.'


"If a local emergency is declared, then under ARS 26-311(B), 'the chairman of the board of supervisors shall, during such emergency, govern by proclamation and shall have the authority to impose all necessary regulations to preserve the peace and order of the ... unincorporated areas of the county, including ... 2. Ordering the closing of any business.'


"Does this emergency power extend to closing a mine because the mine's use of water would cause a disaster for citizens of the county?


"This question may come up at the June 18 meeting in Elfrida, concerning the Aurelio project.  Thank you for your consideration."



Here's Searle's answer:


"Having discussed this topic with the County Attorney two years ago, I believe calling a 'State of Emergency' over a mining operation would be exceeding the intent of this statute. The intent of this power is so that local governments can respond to time sensitive emergencies where any delayed response could cause loss of life or property. This power was not given to local governments to circumvent State regulations or legislative policy. To challenge the State's authority over mining or water by using such a declaration would surely jeopardize local government's future ability to respond to actual critical time sensitive emergencies. Abuse of this power by the chair would also insure that there would be a change in chairmanship fairly quickly."


Here's my reply:

"I appreciate your answering, because it gives me a chance to ask questions about what is important to you.


"The basic framework of my question is that there is a water crisis, given little publicity yet, in the Sulphur Springs Valley.  Signs of a rapidly diminishing water supply are all around us here.  It is certain that if this continues (for an unknown amount of time), many private wells will become unusable, and the area must become depopulated.  The issue, then, is whether a large mining operation, which would noticeably accelerate the water table drop, is a 'Local Emergency' which a board of supervisors may respond to, whether or not the governor sees fit to declare a 'State of Emergency' under a different statute.


"Let me take each part of your answer and respond to it in turn.


"You write, 'Having discussed this topic with the County Attorney two years ago, I believe calling a "State of Emergency" over a mining operation would be exceeding the intent of this statute. The intent of this power is so that local governments can respond to time sensitive emergencies where any delayed response could cause loss of life or property.'

    "My response:  We do not know precisely when our water will become inaccessible, but we know it will, and to me it seems irresponsible to assume that the time can NOT be soon.  It's as if you saw someone walking around with a rifle, threatening to shoot someone, but you argued that there was no emergency because you didn't know exactly when he would pull the trigger.  That reasoning would not satisfy you if the intended target were one of your family -- so why should the public be satisfied with your reasoning, when the entire public is at risk from accelerated water use for mining?

"You write, 'This power was not given to local governments to circumvent State regulations or legislative policy.'

    "In response:  'Circumventing' state regulations or policy does not arise here.  There is no state law or policy to circumvent, as local political figures, including you, have repeatedly emphasized.  Moreover, this localized water problem is precisely the kind of situation which local people will become aware of long before state government.  Must this part of Cochise County see its future ruined because political tradeoffs cannot be cobbled together fast enough in the state legislature?  If, on the other hand, there is time to prepare a state law, then what efforts are you making to get such a law passed?  It seems to me that you have to do at least one, maybe both:  either act upon a local emergency, or get a state law passed to prevent the emergency.

"You write, 'To challenge the State's authority over mining or water by using such a declaration would surely jeopardize local government's future ability to respond to actual critical time sensitive emergencies.'

    "In response:  How can effective local handling of a local emergency possibly jeopardize future effective handling of other emergencies?  Do you mean that if we handle this water emergency, then there won't be money left over to handle hypothetical future emergencies?--because that's not a good argument either.

"You write, 'Abuse of this power by the chair would also insure that there would be a change in chairmanship fairly quickly.'

    "In response:  Declaring and acting upon a 'Local Emergency' requires an authorization by the entire board, and it is unlikely that the board, having issued an authorization, would turn on the chair for acting upon it.  The bigger issue is, Will one supervisor, seeing certain disaster coming from unregulated mining, try to mobilize public opinion in favor of stopping the disaster?

"I will be circulating a writeup of this issue, and will be glad to incorporate your responses to these issues into the writeup.


"See you Wednesday evening, perhaps."