Patagonia, AZ: A Town Divided

Our various treks have taken us through the quaint town of Patagonia several times. Patagonia is nestled in the Patagonia Mountains and its heritage is mining – not unusual in this part of the world. During our stops in Patagonia we have had the opportunity to chat with a number of people. One thing that became clear during conversations is that there is a lot of animosity between newer residents of the town and long time residents. Many of the newer residents are artists and environmentalists who oppose the current plan to expand the mining operations. The current investment is known as the Hermosa Project and is backed by Australia based mining company, South32. This company has paid $1.3b in order to gain the rights to mine for zinc and copper at this site. Many long time residents work at the mine or are involved in businesses that support mining operations.

Copper mines are not attractive to say the least. The are huge open pit mines. In this case the current mine is a 4000 foot long by 900 foot deep hole, however, it is located six miles from town and is not visible from the road. At the same time there is no arguing that there is a demand for copper and zinc in the technology driven world we live in today.

South32 plans to expand the mining operation underground using environmentally compliant  technology they have used successfully in Australia. The newer residents insist it does not matter because all mining is bad for the environment (at least in Patagonia).

One of the individuals we met is Charlie. He grew up in Patagonia and is the owner of Pat Gas & Services. Charlie voiced support for the Hermosa Project at a town hall meeting. The newer residents then began boycotting his business and his fuel contract with the town was terminated. Charlie is currently trying to sell the business.

We are not smart enough to know if there is a pure right or wrong here in regard to the environmental or financial issues. We do think it is a shame that residents whose families have lived in Patagonia for generations can be driven out of their town by monied newcomers.

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