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
"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
"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
"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."