BISBEE — Two new solar farms on the Babocomari Ranch may now move forward with plans to build facilities to provide 80MW power to Tucson Electric Power Company as the Cochise County Board of Supervisors unanimously denied an appeal made by Maureen G. McBride.
The Special Use Authorizations were approved by the county Planning and Zoning Commission for Clenera Solar North, a 560-acre parcel, and Clenera Solar South, a 540-acre parcel, though not unanimously. Four commissioners voted in favor, three opposed and one abstained.
McBride’s appeal was based on political reasons regarding a decision made last fall by the Arizona Corporation Commission to reduce carbon emissions in the state. Proposition 207, an initiative on the 2018 ballot to reduce the carbon footprint and encouraging alternative power sources like solar and wind in the state was defeated. She believed the ACC acted in opposition to the voters’ wishes. She also faulted solar and wind as damaging to the environment and wildlife.
Charles McChesney, whose family has owned the Babocomari Ranch since 1935, spoke in favor of denial of the appeal and said he approved of the solar farms.
Chief Civil Deputy Attorney Christine Roberts told Supervisors Ann English, Peggy Judd and Tom Crosby their decision had to be on land use issues only, not political issues.
Since the county’s comprehensive plan encourages such permits for alternative energy projects, the Planning Department staff recommended approval, said Planner II Robert Kirschmann.
Crosby said McBride and others could have bought the land if they felt so strongly about the solar farm.
Rory Juneman, attorney for Clenera, stated, “The county zoning code is clear. The staff reviewed the application and the Planning and Zoning Commission gave its approval. There was no clear error in granting approval of the SUPs.”
The supervisors also approved a rezoning request for a third solar farm on Charleston Road in Sierra Vista as requested by Greenstone Land Holdings LLC, from R–36 (one home per 36,000 square feet) to RU–2 (one home per two acres) and an SUA to allow the construction of 125–140 acres of solar panels and associated equipment on the 232.31 acre parcel. It, too, was approved by the Planning and Zoning Commission.
A condition on the SUA was a 40-foot-wide buffer along all perimeters of the site. However, this buffer shall be increased to no less than 120 feet wide in the southeastern corner of the subject parcel adjacent to Dake Road. Native vegetation, where present, shall be preserved to the greatest extent possible. Also, the applicant must establish perennial native vegetation over the entire disturbed soil area at a minimum density of 70 percent of the native vegetative coverage,” said Christine McLachlan, Planner II. This was to accommodate neighbors with an impacted viewshed.
County School Superintendent Jacqui Clay received approval for a letter to the Arizona Department of Education from the supervisors recommending the establishment of an Accommodation District in Cochise County.
Clay has partnered with GradSolutions LLC to establish a Dropout Recovery Program for high-risk students in the sixth to 12th grades with an alternative to complete their secondary education and move toward post–secondary opportunities such as certification programs, licenses, internships and college, Clay said. She pointed out there is no cost to the county to establish the district.
“The online Accommodation Dropout Recovery School provides our high risk youth with motivation, direction and purpose, giving them a spirit of significance as a Cochise County citizen. Cochise County’s private, charter, and unified school districts support and welcome this initiative,” she said.
Crosby brought up the problem with online teaching as teachers and students grapple with the remote learning experience.
Clay said teachers and students with no experience in online classrooms are having problems. But, those familiar with and having experience of remote learning are doing fine. The teachers for this program are all versed in online teaching.
There are 200 at-risk students signed up for the program and Clay hopes to get more.
The Cochise County Airport in Willcox will be getting a much needed runway resurfacing after the supervisors accepted a $936,734 grant for design and construction from the Arizona Department of Transportation’s Airport Pavement Maintenance System Program. The county does have to provide a 10 percent match of $93,673.
At the Bisbee Douglas International Airport, the supervisors approved an annual contract with Delaware LLC for the operation of an animal crematorium in the 20,000-square-foot building for $1,150 a month for one year, effective Feb. 1, with the option to renew in one year increments.
After some discussion, the supervisors unanimously approved an amendment to a contract with the Arizona Department of Health Services, which changed from a reimbursable fee program to a fixed price, meaning the county will no longer have to wait to be paid back by the state.
Cochise Health and Social Services Director Alicia Thompson said the contract, which was approved last year, provides the county with multiple services to fight opioid addiction. It creates a fatality review board to accurately log deaths by overdose. It also provides transition services for addicts released from jail and a social worker with nursing experience to keep up with people incarcerated in the jail who are struggling with addiction.
The amendment only changes the billing process, she added.
The next regular meeting will be held on Tuesday, Feb. 9.