August 10 - August 16, 1995

B y  J e f f  S m i t h 


WE ALL KNOW about Murphy's Law. We know that if something can go wrong, it will. What we don't know for sure is how the critical corollary to Murphy's Law, Murphy's Time-frame, factors into the equation.

Time is something none of us understands very well. In fact we can't even say for sure that time exists. Most of us think of time in linear terms--a straight-line continuum, stretching back into the past, over and done with and therefore immutable, and on toward the far horizon of the unknown and uncertain future, with us smack dab in the middle. But this is only our egocentric opinion: Time may be something entirely different--circular, spherical, triangular...perhaps even nonexistent.

Maybe time is, like my friend David Standish observed, "just Nature's way of keeping everything from happening all at once."

Or maybe it's just our way of conning ourselves into thinking everything isn't happening all at once. Maybe it is happening all at once. I am increasingly inclined to believe this is so.

For one thing, it seems to me that here in my neighborhood, everything is turning to shit, faster than the human mind can keep pace.

To recite a by-no-means exhaustive litany, and in no particular order:

• This clown put up a 300-foot tower in the middle of Sonoita, so rich new arrivals could have car phones. He took his profits to the bank and promptly left the country.

• NAFTA got passed and guaranteed that Scenic Highway 82 through our towns and countryside would be dangerously over-trafficked by speeding semi-trucks, for which the roadway was neither designed nor intended.

• Another rich jerk subdivided his ranch in the San Rafael Valley, thereby jacking everybody else's property tax valuation and eventual estate taxes sky-high, and thus virtually guaranteeing that this pristine and priceless environmental jewel will be lost to cancerous subdivision.

• Still another land-speculating butt-head is chopping up old ranchland south of Sonoita into 10- and 5-acre chunks (with no water) so the real estate peddling hobbyists of the county can finance their new SUVs and do lunch, and so an army of dreamy-eyed John Denver clones can move out to the grasslands, demand urban amenities, get divorced, go crazy, screw up the country for those of us who love it here, and then move back to the city.

• And now ASARCO wants to work a land swap with the U.S. Forest Service, so they can mine copper on more than 13,000 acres of ground on the east side of the Santa Rita Mountains, stretching along the Sonoita Highway, which is, incidentally, designated as a State Scenic Highway.

That ought to spruce up the barrio.

Of course this put me immediately in mind of the bad old days at The Arizona Daily Star, when David F. Brinegar was executive editor, appointed by the owners of the Tucson Citizen, who had bought the Star and installed Brinegar to guarantee that the Star would be a continuing embarrassment to itself, and no real threat to the Citizen. It was Brinegar who wrote most of the Star editorials of those dark ages, and who penned that unforgettable ode to Arizona's mining industry, in which the huge and hideous tailings piles that blight the horizon to the north and west of Green Valley were likened to the Seven Wonders of the ancient world.

No shit. You've got yer pyramids of Giza, yer Colossus of Rhodes, yer Hanging Gardens of Babylon...some other real estate developments amongst yer heathen Chinee...and then yer Slag Heaps of Pima County.

Suffice it to say that Brinegar's opinion in the foregoing instance amounted to a minority report--even among hardrock mining devotees of the copper lobby. But then Dave Brinegar spent most of his peak earning years with his hands in the pockets of the copper industry or the Salt River Project, and was 100 percent reliable when either needed a peck on its nether-cheeks.

I know what Dave Brinegar would say today if he were let loose to editorialize on the subject of a new copper mine along the Sonoita Highway. And he probably thinks he knows what I would say. But he's in for a surprise.

I'd say, if ASARCO will agree to do it underground, OK. Sort of.

I'd rather not see a mine there at all, because, well, we here in the Sonoita area, our brothers and sisters throughout Southern Arizona, the United States and the world, can get along without the copper that would be mined out of our scenic hillsides. True, there would be some new jobs around here, but we don't know how many; and money would be made, but we don't know how much. Face it: In today's global economy, it doesn't matter a lot where the jobs are or where the money is made, ASARCO can buy a piece of the action and a share in the profits, wherever.

If there is one thing ASARCO, the copper industry at-large, and everyone should have learned the last time the greenies and the miners squared off over Southern Arizona's land and air, it is that for every dollar spent there is a dollar earned.

What I mean is this: The mines bitched and cried when they were told to clean up their dirty smelters. Finally they had to clean up or tear down, but where they cleaned up, some other industrial giant made a shitload of cash, selling them the technology to do it. I said back then that if the mines were smart, they'd be buying into anti-pollution technology and simply passing dollars from the right hand to the left.

But they weren't smart enough fast enough, and the Japanese made the money.

This time around they should know better. If it costs more to mine the Rosemont ore body underground than open-pit, no worries: just buy stock in companies that make picks and shovels and rob Peter to pay Paul.

And then...this is the good part...since you're going to be generating a lot of traffic to and from the mine, what with miners coming and going and semi-trucks hauling away the copper, and armored cars laden with cash heading for the bank, ASARCO can joint-venture with the state Department of Transportation and the Feds who are interested in NAFTA truck traffic to build that Sahuarita Bypass I suggested in an earlier column.

Under these changing circumstances, the investment in time, money and public safety--especially along Scenic Highway 83 and 82--would be amply justified.

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August 10 - August 16, 1995

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