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Recycling center seeks special use authorization

WHETSTONE — A Special Use authorization request submitted to the Cochise County Planning and Zoning Commission for a recycling center in Whetstone is getting a lot of attention from property owners near the proposed recycling operation.

If approved, the Special Use request — Docket SU-20-06 (Bolstering Buffalo) — would allow a recycling center in a residential neighborhood with some home-based and other low-impact businesses scattered throughout the area.

Many property owners in the surrounding area are voicing objections to the operation because of potential impacts they believe it could have on the neighborhood.

Complaint and investigationLucinda Earven, a resident on Oak Street since 1995, lives directly behind the property where Bolstering Buffalo is currently operating its recycling center.

“They started dumping their recyclable items into roll-offs in March, which created a tremendous amount of noise because of breaking glass,” Earven said. “Concerned about the noise, blowing trash and the potential for attracting vermin, I filed a complaint with the county Planning and Zoning Commission on April 1.”

Following Earven’s complaint, a county investigator came out to the site and found Bolstering Buffalo in violation of zoning regulations.

“I am amazed by their (Bolstering Buffalo’s) ignorance,” Earven said. “By their own admission, they started the business in September, established a website and began operating out of the Whetstone site in March without the necessary county authorization. They’ve now filed a special use application, but only after they were found in violation.”

The County Planning and Zoning Commission will be holding a public hearing on July 8 at 4 p.m. to consider approval of the Special Use application submitted by Eric D. Holeman, President and CEO of Bolstering Buffalo Inc., the recycling business that he and his wife, Rebecca launched in September.

The Holemans have been leasing a 2,400 square-foot building at 202 W. Oak St. in Whetstone since March for the purpose of storing recyclable materials they collect in the Sierra Vista, Hereford and Moson Road areas. Once transported to the site in Whetstone, the recyclables are sorted, processed, baled and stored in a warehouse until shipped to other locations across North America, according to the special use application documents.

In Cochise County, a recycling center falls under Light Industry zoning districts. Bolstering Buffalo is currently operating on property zoned as General Business, which is why the company was found in violation of zoning regulations, said Robert Kirschmann, a planner with the county planning and zoning division.

“We received a complaint about the business and that resulted in an inspection by the county,” Kirschmann said. “After they were found to be operating in violation of zoning regulations, the company filed for the special use authorization it needs to come into compliance.”

The county sent a notice to property owners within one mile of the site where the Special Use is requested, advising them of the upcoming hearing.

Because of COVID-19 concerns, those interested in attending the hearing will need to do so remotely.

Bolstering Buffalo responseIn a letter sent to neighboring properties, Eric Holeman assures property owners that Bolstering Buffalo will be operating “a quiet, clean and small facility” where all materials are sorted into small containers at the curb when picked up from customers.

“We do not utilize garbage trucks, front-end loaders, or large dump trucks,” Holeman notes in the letter. “Our heaviest piece of machinery will be an indoor 60-inch vertical blaer that will compact our materials into shippable blocks.”

All machinery, with the exception of a forklift, will be used inside the warehouse, creating little or no noise pollution for neighbors, the letter states. Traffic in and out of the facility will be minimal, with materials being dropped off once or twice a day. In addition, materials will be loaded on a trailer and shipped out of the site about once a month.

“When people think of a recycling center, they typically imagine a large, loud, dirty facility, but we are providing our customer with a clean and sustainable solution,” the letter states.

The objectionsDespite Holeman’s assurances of minimal impacts to the area, some property owners are sending letters of objection to the county, and are signing a petition that has been circulated in the area.

Gary Miller, owner of Quail Ridge RV Resort — a 36-acre property with year-round residents — is concerned about “the prospect of more intensive uses associated with a recycling center” in the neighborhood.

“If this special use application is approved, it opens the floodgates for future intensive use authorizations in Whetstone because it sets a precedent,” Miller said. “According to county regulations, a recycling center falls within Light Industry zoning. The business owners need this special use permit so they can operate their recycling business legally. That special use authorization stays with the property, even if the current business owner packs up and leaves at some point. That’s a huge concern.”

While looking through the letter sent from Bolstering Buffalo, Miller questioned how the recyclable items are cleaned for storage.

“The letter says these different materials could be stored up to a month before they’re transferred out of the warehouse. I see this as a starting point for all kinds of problems,” he said. “I’m concerned about the odor from storing the recyclable trash and attracting insects and rodents. There are sanitation and health and environmental concerns associated with this operation.”

When asked about Miller’s sanitation concerns, Holeman said only clean products are accepted by his company when items are collected. All recyclable items are hand sorted curbside and must be clean.

“Our policy is for our customers to wash and clean their recyclable materials before we pick them up,” he said. “If we find a dirty product in their bin during time of service, we leave it in the bin to be washed.”

Eileen Swiers, a 16-year resident in Whetstone, also expressed concerns about the recycling center, citing its “intensive use” in what she describes as a residential neighborhood with a few low-impact businesses.

“There is a history on this street,” Swiers said. “In 2014, Waste Management submitted a Light Industry rezoning application for the purpose of a ‘waste transfer station’ on the west end of Oak Street. That application caused widespread objections from Whetstone residents which contributed to the Planning and Zoning Commission’s unanimous denial of Waste Management’s request.”

Whetstone residents Jim and Diana Wales, former owners of Whetstone Pottery and Fountains, a business they established along Highway 90 in Whetstone, also object to the recycling center.

“Whetstone seems to be the dumping point for all of Cochise County,” Jim Wales said. “It’s frustrating. Waste Management wanted a transfer station on Oak Street, which they didn’t get, and here we are six years later, fighting a recycling center. Once these special uses slip into our neighborhood, they’re here to stay. And they pave the way for other special uses that people do not want in residential neighborhoods.”

Holeman said he wants to work with neighbors so a resolution can be found.

“We are a local family that owns and operates this business. So we want our neighbors happy because we would want to be treated the same way.”

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Chiricahua ending testing blitz sites due to lack of funding

COCHISE COUNTY — Blitz testing for COVID-19 in Cochise County ended Friday, after officials at Chiricahua Community Health Centers could no longer pay to process the test kits.

Chief Executive Officer Jonathan Melk said Friday that the last of the blitz testing was done in Douglas and Sierra Vista.

Since June 4, Chiricahua has tested 1,749 people at a cost to the clinic of $113,000. The expense was solely for processing the test kits, Melk said.

“That was on our own,” Melk said in a telephone interview Friday. “That amount did not include staff, time and logistics.”

For the last few weeks, Chiricahua has provided blitz testing areas in Douglas, Bisbee, Benson, Sierra Vista, Willcox and Elfrida, Melk said.

“The tests were free and no one was turned away, very few questions were asked,” Melk said.

But once June rolled around, Chiricahua lost the four financial partners that had helped pay for the blitz testing done in May, Melk said.

“Our four funding sources dried up,” Melk said.

The partners included the Arizona Department of Health Services, Cochise County Health and Social Services, the Legacy Foundation and the Children’s Health Fund in New York, Melk said.

Tests administered in May to 2,481 people, cost $127,000, Melk said.

As of Friday, a total of 4,230 tests had been done in the six communities mentioned by Melk. He said Chiricahua would be happy to partner with other funding sources so that blitz testing could be revived.

“We just can’t do it alone,” Melk said.

He said COVID-19 testing would resume Monday for Chiricahua patients only.

Cochise County spokeswoman Amanda Baillie said people can still contact their local healthcare provider and ask to be tested. Baillie said testing for the virus should be covered by health insurance, but it’s recommend individuals call their healthcare provider directly to discuss their options.