Oujournalist’s Blog

The blog of a freelancing journalist in Arizona

San Tan Mountains use protectors for ancient sites June 24, 2011

Filed under: green — Candace Hughes @ 4:28 pm
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San Tan Pit receives permit renewal

By Candace S. Hughes
Special to The San Tan Monthly

A Gilbert resident who is building a home near the San Tan gravel pit is complaining that he was not notified of a hearing in which the pit’s air quality permit was tentatively renewed April 17.

During a 3 p.m. hearing in the cafeteria of Walker Butte Elementary School Don Gabrielson and other Pinal County staff agreed to renew the pit’s permit for five years. No members of the public were present and no officials of Pioneer Landscaping appeared to discuss the application.

“I’m very disappointed I was never contacted by the county,” said Kevin Okuszka, a Gilbert resident who is building a home in the El Pedregal development west of the pit. The San Tan Gravel Pit is at 26401 N. Gary Road and has operated in the area since 1996.

Pioneer Landscaping took over the operation from San Tan Mining Co. in 2001 and still runs the operation. Debbie Ellsworth of Pioneer Landscaping was notified of the hearing, said Anu Jain, a Pinal County air quality permit engineer, but she did not attend.

Okuszka and his father-in-law, Al Wood, were the only citizens to file written comments regarding the company’s application to renew its permit. Wood, who lives in Michigan, is planning to build a home on land he owns near Gary and Silver Bell roads and move to the area.

“I had my telephone number on the letter and I was expecting a telephone call,” said Okuszka, who will move to the area with his wife and three children when their house is completed at the end of the year.

“The public hearing notice is always published in the newspaper and I am guessing it was the Florence Reminder (March 16),” said Jain. In addition the hearing notice was published in The Apache Junction News March 23, according to affidavits of publication from the two newspapers.

“I’m not sure if the complainants were provided with a copy of the public hearing notice or not. It also is posted at different sites within the Pinal County Complex,” she added.

Okuszka said he was aware of the pit when he bought the land 18 months ago and that the gravel mining operation is visible from the back of his lot, but that he had been told the pit would close in several years.

“The gravel pit itself does not regularly water or control its own dust on its premises that it generates and the dirt, dust that pollutes the air is a constant problem,” Okuszka said in his Feb. 25 letter to the Pinal County Air Quality District requesting a hearing on the permit renewal.

“I am asking for a public hearing for a chance for the families and myself to be heard, to voice their disapproval of this gravel pit and to put a final date on when this gravel pit will be closed,” he said in the letter.

Sharon Okuszka said, “It sounds like they didn’t want to inform anyone. We paid an overnight freight charge to get the comments to them and we have not had one response. We were never informed of the hearing.”

In renewing the permit, Gabrielson, director of the Pinal County Department of Health and Human Services, said he is requiring that Pioneer keep records of spraying during operations.

Gabrielson said that Pinal County only has enough inspectors to take a look at the 40 gravel pits in the county about once every two years. Inspectors will respond if a complaint is made, Gabrielson added.

Okuszka also said he was concerned about the amount of dust created by trucks driving on the dirt road, but the air quality permit is limited to the amount of particulates created by the gravel mining operation.

The issue of homes being built on or near a dirt road and a gravel pit is a zoning concern that isn’t part of the state statutes governing air quality, Gabrielson said.

Okuszka, who said he is working on his house two days a week, said he is unhappy with how often the road is graded and watered. “There is always a plume of dust from the pit,” he added.

Pioneer does water the road, but officials with the company have declined to discuss the renewal with The San Tan Monthly.

Because no violations have been found concerning the recently expired permit, there is little the county can do under state air quality regulations, Gabrielson said.

Anyone wishing to appeal the ruling has 30 days to file a written request to reconsider the decision. The company also has 30 days to pay the $1,000 fee for the renewal once it is issued, Jain said.

Wood said he was not notified of the hearing, and thought that the pit would “go away in the next year or so. My son-in-law Kevin (Okuszka) said the pit’s permit was running out in a year or so that implied that the pit was going to close.”

However, Wood still plans to build a home and run a solar consulting business there in several years. He said his main concerns are with the traffic and gravel trucks tearing up the road, but added that the county is doing a good job in other areas.

“Actually, I’m pretty impressed with some of the planning they’ve done in a short period of time. We beat up on our public officials a lot, but in some cases they’re doing a marvelous job.”

For more information:

Volunteers who wish to attend the Phoenix metro area training for new site stewards should call (602)-542-7143 or send an email to mestes@pr.state.az.us. Classroom session Feb. 18 and field training Feb. 25. Notices of time and place will be sent to those who return applications.

San Tan area residents monitor archaeological sites

By Candace S. Hughes
Special for The San Tan Monthly

“This is the United States of America and I can do anything I want,” an off-road vehicle enthusiast proclaimed when found infringing on land near an archaeological site in the San Tan Mountain Regional Park.

But Georgia Peterson, Denise Head and Alden and Caroline Rosbrook and others in the San Tan area are working to see that these places are protected from further destruction.

Confronting the off-road vehicle rider eventually worked to keep him out of the park, but some damage already has been done to ancient gardens and other places of pre-historic and historical significance.

San Tan Mountain Regional Park is just now being fenced, and a park employee had opened a gate to let debris run through a wash after a rainstorm. The off-road vehicle rider gained access to the park while the gate was open, Peterson explained.

Under the Arizona State Parks Department site protector program, at least 760 Arizonans including Peterson, Head and the Rosbrooks have been trained to watch a site or sites they have adopted and they hike regularly to the areas to watch for incursion.

Peterson, was a teacher for Sacaton Public Schools in the Gila River Indian Community for 19 years, and became interested in the area as she accompanied children to view petroglyphs in the San Tan Mountain Regional Park.

“They ran to the place when we got close,” she exclaimed. The children’s enthusiasm and her years as a teacher of Native Americans helped her gain an appreciation for the significance of the sites.

Just before retirement she and her husband began building an adobe home on private land they purchased near the park. Now she can hike to her site as often as she likes.

Other site stewards monitor places in the Superstition Mountains while some are pilots with the Civil Air Patrol from Falcon Field.

The protectors serve in 27 regions across Arizona, from the border with Mexico to the Arizona Strip, said Mary Estes, resource protection specialist with the State Historic Preservation Office/Arizona State Parks.

Two pre-historic sites and one historic site have been identified in the park, and Peterson recites the research that has been done about “her site.”

It is thought that Hohokam cultivated agaves there as long as 2,000 years ago and up to about 500 A.D. “They controlled water to get to where they were farming and channeled it there, perhaps until about 1540 A.D. — the time of European contact in this area,” she said.

Rocks are piled around the area as well and implanted in the soil showing that there may have been cultivation. “It takes an imagination to see it, but when an archaeologist showed me the site, she made it very clear,” Peterson said.

Unfortunately this place along with many others in the park have been disturbed by off-road vehicles, cattle, hikers, equestrians and four-wheelers, with most of the people unaware that they are even crossing a site, said Peterson, who is now 71.

“It’s amazing that there’s anything left, but they’re still interesting to look at and try to imagine the crops,” she added, mentioning that her site is five miles from the park’s visitor center, but she is forbidden from showing it to others.

“Primarily the mission of the program is to monitor archaeological sites and report vandalism, and to reach out to the public to let others know the importance of leaving the archaeological record in place,” Estes said. “Sites are special, and often, sacred places, for Native Americans living today.”

As part of the State Historic Preservation Office and Arizona State Parks, the program provides certified volunteers who follow a code of ethics. To attend the February training for new volunteers, contact Estes at (602)-542-7143 or send an email to mestes@pr.state.az.us.

“The training consists of learning about the federal and state laws relevent to cultural resources, vandalism and monitoring reporting process, how to protect an archaeology crime scene, and 1/2 day in the field with a professional archaeologist learning a little of the pre-contact cultures and how to identify an archaeological site,” Estes said.

Alden Rosbrook, 68, and Caroline Rosbrook, 67, who also are active with the San Tan Pride Association, are site stewards for the gravesites of Mansel Carter and Marion Kennedy, miners who had claims on Goldmine Mountain for 40 years. They are working to place fencing around the area.

Most of the other sites are archaeological or religious sites, said Alden Rosbrook, a director with the San Tan Pride Association. “The fun part of this is getting together with people from all over the Southwest – hikers, archaeologists and tribal people. I really like the historical part of it. This is fantastic,” he added.

Carter, who lived from 1902-1987, is known as the Man of the Mountain, and is featured in an exhibit at the San Tan Historical Society. The mining apparently stopped with Kennedy’s death in 1960, but it is thought that neither found large amounts of gold or silver, Rosbrook said.

The Man of the Mountain became known for his “cactus curios” of carved animals, and Rosbrook recalled attending Carter’s burial in the park when he made the mistake of wearing black shoes on a hot June day. “I kept moving into the shadow of other people and moving my feet because it was so hot,” he explained.

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