Cochise County officials are hoping someone with experience in the repurposing of historic properties will want to purchase, renovate, and redevelop the former Bisbee High School, whose exterior dates to 1914 and most of its interior to 1920.
The three-story, four-level school designed by architect Norman Foote Marsh is part of three parcels encompassing about 1.4 acres within the City of Bisbee. The property sits within the Bisbee Historic District, which is itself included on the National Register of Historic Places.
A recently announced request for proposals (RFP) notes Cochise County intends to sell the property “to a developer for subsequent conversion from governmental office use to multi-unit residential, which may also incorporate some retail and office use.” The city council recently approved the county’s rezoning request to Commercial Mixed Use (CM-2).
According to county officials, the ideal developer would have knowledge and experience in property redevelopment, adaptive reuse of historic properties, and historic preservation. Any conveyance by the county would likely include a permanent easement to preserve and protect the building’s exterior.
“The County also expects to enter into a mutually acceptable land development agreement with the successful proposer that will govern the subsequent rehabilitation of the building and the redevelopment of the property,” the RFP states.
Despite the complexities that can come with repurposing the building, there is an interesting peculiarity to Marsh’s three-story, four-level design for the school: as a result of being built on a hillside, all of the building’s levels to have a street-level entrance, a fact attested to by Ripley’s Believe-It-or-Not.
Meanwhile, another historic high school is for sale in Cochise County – the Tombstone Union High School built in 1922 along what is now State Route 80.
For the last 15 years, myriad realtors have tried to find a buyer for the two-story high school which has sat empty since 2006. The 4.5-acre property includes a separate gymnasium and science building, all of which are located near the Tombstone Historic District and historic Allen Street.
Anyone interested in more information about the sale of Tombstone HS can call Superintendent Robert Devere at 520-457-2217.
Excitement is growing in northern Cochise County after the announcement that multiple jobs will be created in early 2022 when Excelsior Mining Corp. reactivates the historic Johnson Camp Copper Mine which was first opened in the 1880s about 65 miles east of Tucson.
Johnson Camp Mine has not produced copper ore in nearly a decade but reopening the mine will allow Excelsior to take advantage of copper’s strong price. In turn, the company will use those revenues to pay for a neutralization plant for its newly opened Gunnison Copper Project, which has produced far less copper cathode than it forecasted.
Excelsior’s Gunnison Copper Project situated one mile from Johnson Camp Mine along Interstate 10 opened last year with limited operations. It is expected to produce 125 million pounds per annum of 99.99 percent copper cathode when fully operational, but this year’s goal was only 25 million pounds.
On Oct. 20, Senior VP Robert Winton said the company has produced less than 1 million pounds to date. The problem, according to Winton and CEO Stephen Twyerould, is that carbon dioxide (CO2) has shown up in Gunnison’s in-situ recovery wellfield.
The villain, they say, is calcite, a naturally-present mineral which creates CO2 when it reacts with the leaching solution injected into the wellfield.
Winton says a fix to the CO2 issue has been identified, but it will take months to update the current wells. In the meantime, company officials have decided to make improvements at the Johnson Camp Mine in order to generate higher revenues next year.
The comments by Twyerould and Winton were made during a webinar hosted by Amvest Capital, a New York-based specialist investment management and corporate finance firm focused solely on the natural resource sector.
Johnson Camp Mine and its existing SX-EW plant can provide up to five years of production from its Copper Chief Pit and the Burro Pit, which Winton says have “a lot of near surface copper.” After construction of a new leach pad and issuance of amended state permits, Johnson Camp is expected to commence production in the second half of 2022.
That means Excelsior’s current staff of about 60 (employees and consultants) will need to be bolstered, bringing much needed fulltime jobs to the Benson and Willcox areas.
According to Winton, the presence of calcite was known from geological studies, but the extent of its impact was not understood until production began at Gunnison last year.
“Calcite was certainly understood in the prework, metallurgical costs, and certainly the feasibility study which is fundamentally an acid consumption discussion,” he said. “However, the negative impacts of CO2 and how they really impacted our flow rate was certainly not envisioned and certainly became the fundamental focus of our ramp up challenges.”
The good part, Winton said, is that the calcite reaction can be managed, which is why construction of a neutralization plant funded by Johnson Camp Mine revenues is Excelsior’s immediate focus.
In 2014, the Johnson Camp property was the main asset of Nord Resources, which was forced into court-ordered receivership by creditors after years of underperformance. Then in late 2015, Excelsior Mining obtained the blessing of a Pima County judge to buy out Nord Resources’ assets.
The company then purchased thousands of surrounding acres, including the site where Gunnison Copper Project’s North Star copper deposit is located. But Excelsior officials are not putting all of their eggs in the copper basket.
Last month Twyerould released a preliminary economic assessment of another company asset, the Strong and Harris copper-zinc-silver deposit located on the northside of I-10 a few miles from Johnson Camp.
Twyerould said that if mining is undertaken at the Strong and Harris deposit it would be by traditional open pit, followed by high-grade underground mining of the remaining sulfides at the bottom of the pit. However, he cautioned that it is still too early to know if mining will be feasible.
“Mineral resources that are not mineral reserves do not have demonstrated economic viability,” he said.
Excelsior also has landholdings in the historic Turquoise Mining District, also referred to as the Courtland-Gleeson District, located approximately 30 miles southeast of the Johnson Camp Mine.
Excelsior Mining is using a six-step in-situ recovery process to produce 99.99 percent pure copper cathode sheets. The process starts with a leaching solution pumped through injection wells which have been sunk over the ore body. This is known as the wellfield.
The leaching solution then moves through naturally fractured rock and dissolves the copper. Multiple recovery wells surrounding each injection well then extract the copper-rich solution, also known as pregnant solution.
The fourth step is for the solution to be pumped to the surface for further processing during which copper is extracted from the solution and turned into copper cathode sheets. Finally, the mining solution is recycled back to the well field to be reused.
Throughout the leaching process, Excelsior Mining utilizes differential pumping and natural impermeable barriers to keep the fluids from migrating beyond the wellfield.
The Arizona Supreme Court is set to hear oral arguments next month in a case that involves whether the Cochise County Board of Supervisors violated one or more state laws in appointing one of their own to a coveted court position in 2019 without asking if anyone else was interested in the job.
During the June 3 hearing, the justices must decide whether the legal challenge of then-supervisor Pat Call’s appointment to the Sierra Vista Justice was brought forth by someone who had standing to do so. An appointment that Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich has described in two legal briefs as “unlawful.”
The case centers on the February 2019 appointment of Call as justice of the peace for Cochise County’s busiest justice court, where more than half of the county’s felony prosecutions start. On the day of his appointment, Call took part in public discussions about how to fill the position and even suggested the board forego forming a committee to seek candidates.
He also took part in a non-public, executive session after which the other two supervisors – Ann English and Peggy Judd- immediately voted Call in as justice of the peace. There was no advance notice of Call’s interest in the position nor that he was being considered for appointment. There was also no opportunity for public comments.
Call served as justice of the peace from March 1, 2019 through Dec. 31, 2020. He did not stand for election in last November.
Brnovich has been harsh in his criticism of the supervisors’ actions and he has argued in legal briefings that a judge could still impose sanctions on Call, English, and/or Judd. He has also weighed in on who has standing to bring complaints involving Arizona’s Open Meeting Law and Conflict of Interest statute.
One of those people with standing, Brnovich argues, is David Welch, a Sierra Vista resident who had a misdemeanor case pending in the justice court in February 2019. Welch sued in Cochise County Superior Court just days after the supervisors’ vote in an attempt to void Calls’ appointment due to alleged open meeting and conflict of interest violations.
Welch’s lawsuit was dismissed by an out-of-county judge for a lack of standing to bring the challenge. The judge also said that even if a private citizen had standing, any errors or liability connected to the February 2019 vote were resolved when English and Judd ratified Call’s appointment the next month.
Ratification is a legal process allowing a public body to reaffirm an earlier vote that may have run afoul of Open Meeting Law. But as Brnovich pointed out to the Arizona Court of Appeals, there is nothing in the ratification process which automatically indemnifies a public official from a violation of state law.
He also pointed out there is no ratification process in Arizona’s Conflict of Interest statute, under which public officers like Call are required to announce “a substantial interest in any decision of a public agency” and then refrain from participating in such decision “in any manner.”
The Arizona Court of Appeals overturned the lower court judge’s ruling on standing, finding that Welch, as a taxpayer within the legal boundaries of the Sierra Vista Justice Court, could challenge the appointment. The court of appeals also found Welch had “sufficiently pleaded violations of Arizona’s open-meeting and conflict-of-interest statutes.”
Normally that would have sent the case back to the lower court for further proceedings on the merits of Welch’s case. However, Cochise County officials sought review from the Supreme Court and on May 17 the attorney general filed his second amicus brief about the “unlawful” appointment, the remedies available to a court, and his concern with a taxpayer status threshold for determining standing.
Brnovich points out that standing is already defined in Open Meeting Law as any person “affected by” an alleged violation. Utilizing taxpayer status for status would likely preclude some individuals affected by a violation from being able to assert a claim, he argues. An example is Arizona’s open enrollment policy which allows students to attend a school in one district even if they live in another district’s legal boundaries.
“If a school board were to engage in secret decision-making or other alleged OML or conflict of interest violations, out-of-district parents could be left without standing—even though they would be affected by such violations—because they are not taxpayers of the district,” the brief states.
When Gov. Doug Ducey pledged $25 million last month to deploy the Arizona National Guard to the Mexico border he did so after the Biden Administration ignored pleas from state and local law enforcement officials to address the influx of immigrants and smugglers making it unhindered across the border.
The governor noted the National Guard troops would be on State Active Duty to assist with medical operations in detention centers, help with installation and maintenance of border cameras, monitor and collect data from the cameras, and analyze the situation at the border to identify trends in smuggling corridors.
The deployment was well received by two border sheriffs -Cochise County’s Mark Dannels and Yuma County’s Leon Wilmot- who spent the last three months trying to get federal authorities to come up with a plan for the escalating public safety threat and humanitarian crisis at and well beyond the international border.
However, Pima County Sheriff Chris Nanos has insisted his agency does not need National Guard support even though the county shares nearly 130 hundred miles of border with Mexico. The same “no thanks” approach was expressed by Sheriff David Hathaway of Santa Cruz County.
The difference in the positions of the sheriffs falls across political lines – Dannels and Wilmot are registered Republicans, while Hathaway and Nanos are Democrats.
The same political division is reflected in an April 21 letter signed by one county supervisor from each of the border counties in which they chastised Ducey for not asking for their input about the border situation. The signers -all of whom as Democrats- serve as their counties’ representatives on the Arizona Border Counties Coalition.
“We are disappointed that you failed to consult with the various Boards of Supervisors of each border county on this matter,” the Coalition letter states. “If asked, we would have requested assistance for transportation services, specifically buses and drivers, to provide those transportation services that we are now left to arrange on our own.”
The letter was signed by Sharon Bronson, Pima County; Ann English, Cochise County; Bruce Bracker, Santa Cruz County; and Tony Reyes, Yuma County.
Chief of Staff Mark Napier of the Cochise County Sheriff’s Office (CCSO) serves as his county’s point of contact with the Arizona National Guard. Last Thursday more than 30 troops arrived in Cochise County to perform a variety of non-law enforcement duties, including working with an extensive camera system utilized by the Southeastern Arizona Border Region Enforcement (SABRE) team to monitor cross-border traffic.
The troops are also providing support in CCSO’s jail and other clerical activities which allows sheriff’s personnel to deal with “other service demands and address the increase in challenges associated with the border crisis we currently face,” Napier explained.
On Friday, Napier told AZ Free News he and Sheriff Dannels had no advance notice that Supervisor English was signing the letter to Ducey, but they do not see the supervisor’s stance about deployment as being in conflict with CCSO’s position that the border crisis “presents a public safety, national security and human rights issue” which must be addressed in collaboration with federal, state, and local partners.
“The letter expresses some frustration over the lack of engagement between the Governor and Supervisors with respect to the deployment of AZNG personnel,” Napier said. “That is a matter between those Supervisors and the Governor.”
Napier added the Coalition’s letter also states border security is a responsibility of the federal government, “which in fact it is.” And the letter does not deny there is a public safety concern related to the current conditions along the border, he noted.
The Coalition’s letter makes no mention of the frequency or cost of transportation services any of the counties have had to provide or arrange for.
On Feb. 12, 2019, Pat Call had been serving on the Cochise County Board for more than a decade representing for the Sierra Vista area, which includes the Army’s Fort Huachuca. It was also the day Call and his two fellow supervisors took part in a public and then a private meeting which ended with his appointment as justice of the peace of the Sierra Vista Justice Court.
The new job paid twice Call’s supervisor salary despite the fact he was not an attorney and had no judicial experience. But there was no advance public notice that Call was even interested in the position, and during the meeting Call suggested the board not utilize a nomination committee to review any perspective candidates, all of whom were lawyers with experience in justice court operations.
The Arizona Supreme Court announced Wednesday that it will hear a local resident’s challenge to Call’s appointment based on alleged violations of Arizona’s Open Meeting Law and Conflict of Interest Statute. The case is being watched by public agencies and government attorneys across the state.
“When it comes to holding public officials accountable for backdoor deals, this is the most important case in Arizona history,” appellate attorney David Abney said after the justices accepted the case for review.
Abney is one of three attorneys representing David Welch, the Sierra Vista resident who challenged the appointment. He told AZ Free News it does not matter that Call’s term on the bench ended in December 2020.
“There are still penalties and sanctions that can be assessed against those who violate the open-meeting and conflict-of-interest laws,” Abney said. “So Justice of the Peace Call’s departure does not insulate him or his collaborators from liability.”
The county defendants contend they did nothing improper in filling the court vacancy, and point to the fact the Cochise County Attorney’s Office provided legal advice throughout the process.
“The Arizona Legislature has made clear that, for a plaintiff making claim to a private right of action under Arizona’s conflict of interest or open meeting laws, he or she must be ‘affected by’ the alleged violation,” according to the county’s petition for review to the supreme court. The county contends Welch has no standing to challenge the board’s action.
Welch lives within the boundaries of the Sierra Vista Justice Court and had a misdemeanor case pending at the court at the time of Call’s appointment. His case would have been heard by Call, but the county attorney’s office had the case dismissed the day Call took office.
The county later invoked the ratification option in Arizona’s Open Meeting Law to reaffirm Call’s appointment as justice of the peace during a special meeting in March 2019. Welch, however, takes the position shared by Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich that the supervisors may still be open to personal liability if it is shown they engaged in misconduct.
But it is not only the open meeting law issues that Welch has challenged.
Public records show Call engaged in discussions about how to fill the court vacancy he was awarded a few hours later. He also took part in an executive session with the other supervisors, a deputy county attorney, and the county administrator just before being appointed.
Arizona’s conflict of interest statute requires a public officer who has a substantial interest in any decision of a public agency to make known such interest. Then the public officer “shall refrain from participation in any manner…in such decision.”
There is no ratification option in that statute to simply “do-over” or reaffirm a decision.
A judge from outside Cochise County initially dismissed Welch’s complaints on the basis of a lack of standing to bring the challenges. That ruling was overturned in a unanimous Arizona Court of Appeals decision in October 2020, which sent the case back to the lower court for a new hearing on Welch’s arguments.
For now the case is on hold while the supreme court reviews the appellate decision. Attorney Chris Russell has been on Welch’s case from the beginning and understands some residents are frustrated the case has been going on more than two years with no immediate end in sight. But he is looking forward to the attention the Arizona Supreme Court’s review will generate.
“Corruption thrives in the darkness,” Russell said. “Without open and transparent government free from conflicts-of-interest we are no better than a cabal run by the rich and powerful. History has proven that such a circumstance is always detrimental to the people.”
The supreme court has given the parties until early May to file any updated legal briefings before oral arguments are conducted later this year.