Topics in this Issue:
- January – Dodge/Seneca Basin
- February – Benedictine and Migrant Support
- March – Sunshine Mile Overlay
- April – Integrated Landscape Management
- May – Neighborhood Planning / NPZ, FLD
- June – June 9th Wear Orange Event
- July – Art of Asylum and July 4th Monastery Event
- August – Alitas Welcome Center
- September – Monastery Rezoning
- October – Recycling (EOW – glass crusher)
- November – Prop 205, The Sanctuary Initiative
- December – AFFF/3F Starting Ordinance to Ban PFAS Disposal within City Limits
Each year I dedicate the final newsletter of the year to a look-back. I go through each month and choose what I feel were some of the significant achievements we’ve helped to facilitate out of the Ward 6 office. It’s always fun to stroll back through the calendar and see where we’ve been. I hope you enjoy the trip.
Two monsoons ago, midtown got hit with what has become a rather commonplace “100 year storm event.” We need to rethink the name. In the aftermath of that, I began a push to work with the Pima County Flood Control District folks on a more flexible approach to the use of our tax dollars, previously earmarked for major flood work in arroyos. Applying that money to stormwater should relieve homeowners of the effects of monsoon flooding in their neighborhoods. The District was totally on board, and in January of this year we first sat down with neighbors and identified an available parcel of land that will soon become a neighborhood park with a stormwater basin. This is the rendering of what will soon be a finished product.
Throughout the course of the year, we held several design meetings with neighbors. The District and TDOT have worked closely throughout this project. During a recent rain we had the chance to see that indeed, once completed the basin will be a successful tool in diverting water that would otherwise end up in roadways, and flooding homes and businesses.
This is an important project for several reasons. The obvious one is the help it will provide to home and business owners who have had to sandbag their places when monsoon weather is predicted. It’s also important because it signals a new collaborative relationship between City and County departments that will ultimately benefit property owners throughout the City. Stop by the Seneca/Dodge intersection early in the new year and see the first of what hopes to be many similar park/basin/stormwater control additions to our neighborhoods.
It was in February of this year that the Benedictine Monastery became the temporary home to literally thousands of asylum seeking, and just plain ‘better life’ seeking migrants. The story continued all year, in one form or another. But February saw the beginning of the Casa Alitas work in the Benedictine.
Anybody in the community who wasn’t familiar with this iconic building early in the year now most certainly knows about it. As the year advanced, the place served as temporary respite for mainly Central American families who were fleeing life threatening conditions. It was in February that Ross Rulney, owner of the site, agreed to a no-lease deal with Catholic Community Services, allowing them to occupy the monastery and tend to the needs of the migrants. When I first introduced Ross to the CCS folks, we anticipated hosting about 40 people at a time and would block off the sanctuary, upper floors and north end of the building. That lasted about one weekend.
Over 400 volunteers came to help provide this sanctuary. Community members brought and prepared food, clothing, took home laundry, helped with transportation, made contact with next-of-kin, cleaned the building, and perhaps most importantly, we have had over 100 volunteer medical people, largely from the UA tending to the health care needs of the migrants.
There were pregnancies, dehydration, a small measles outbreak, and lots of skin-related issues that developed during of the hundreds of miles long trek. Over the course of the year, nearly 20,000 individuals were served by this community at the monastery.
The stories we have heard from the people arriving at the Benedictine – and continuing today (more in the September review) reflect the dangerous conditions they faced in their homes, and throughout the journey to the Benedictine. It is to this community's great credit that we stepped towards this humanitarian need, resisted the efforts on the part of many in D.C. and Phoenix to criminalize compassion, and took care of the people.
The work of the Benedictine won a Metropolitan Pima Alliance Common Grounds Award this year. A part of that was for the rezoning work. A part was for the humanitarian work. It was well deserved on both counts.
Several years ago, when a group of us met on Broadway to rally against the proposed 150’, 8 lane widening, only those of us gathered had the Whyte concept in mind. To the credit of the Broadway Citizen’s Task Force, they kept the vision alive and even though the M&C voted to approve a ‘slimmed down’ version of the original plan, we had made enough noise – and excellent points, I’d add that the groundwork was laid for what many of us hope and anticipate will be an outcome that will serve as a model for future roadway projects.
Enter some forward thinking from the Rio Nuevo Board. Enter Project for Public Spaces (PPS). Enter the community push for a Complete Streets Policy. All of this coalesced, and in March, I asked the M&C to approve an overlay for the Sunshine Mile. The details are now being formed through ongoing outreach led by PPS and local architect firm Swaim and Associates. In each of those meetings I’ve attended it is clear that we are headed towards the vision of place-making and creating spaces where ‘we come together’.
Rio and PPS identified three specific segments of the Sunshine Mile for development aligned with the vision. The bungalows located between Cherry and Warren are right now being moved back away from the final roadway alignment. Once utility work is completed, they’ll be moved again, up close to the road where they’ll be preserved, and upgraded in ways consistent with the notion of creating gathering spaces. Further to the east are the mid-century modern plaza, and Solot Plaza, each also to be treated with the idea of preservation and place-making in mind.
Here’s what we now have along the Sunshine Mile. It’s not real inviting. The RTA plan of simply demolishing structures and laying more asphalt would have only continued the car-centric mindset. That, despite the data showing people are driving less, and the original traffic projections for the road were way out of line with reality.
These are renderings from the PPS presentation that are guiding the design discussions for the 3 nodes that are under review.
The two mile segment of Broadway changes in character, nearly from block to block. That means when we get to finally approving the overlay zoning, we will not be assuming a ‘one size fits all,’ even for this relatively short section of roadway. But we will hopefully be setting in place a process that will guide future significant road projects that are constructed within the City of Tucson. The RTA is watching this as they consider how to craft their own pitch to the voters for reauthorization. If they’re paying attention they’ll be wise to include this sort of creative, multi-modal thinking in what goes before the voters. As Whyte suggested, roads are much more than simply asphalt strips intended to carry cars.
In April of this year, Councilmember Paul Durham and I partnered on the implementation of an organics-first policy for our landscape maintenance. The rollout of the program has been shepherded by our Parks Director Brent Dennis. Through his involvement and support, we’re now off and running with a policy that should serve as a model for other jurisdictions around the State.
I first met with the group Toxin Free Pima County early in the year. That’s a diverse group of people who are well versed in landscape maintenance, and how other cities have moved away from herbicides that contain toxins, and that in many instances are not necessary to use. Ahead of our first meeting I wondered whether this group would come in advocating for a full ban on the use of non-organics. In fact, they’re on board with the principle that in some rare instances, we have to preserve that as an option. And yet, the policy we adopted will follow this inverted triangle which clearly shows our opening default is to organic methods:
Brent has invested a lot of time and energy in traveling to other cities who have similar policies in place. One that leads on this issue is Irvine, California. We crafted our program to a large degree on what Irvine is doing. Of course there are climatic differences that cause the need for localizing our program. But the guiding principle is what Paul and I were after; leave the chemicals to the last option, and start with the least environmentally invasive approach.
We selected Reid Park as our main pilot park. It has multiple uses, so the rollout of the new toxin-free program is being applied to a variety of conditions. There’s a dog park, picnic areas, playgrounds, ramadas and plants of all sorts. It’s a perfect setting for developing longer term approaches to how we maintain the landscaping. In addition, other departments are now being challenged to follow the inverted triangle; TDOT, Tucson Water, Environmental and General Services, and outside contractors and neighborhood groups working on City property will now be approaching landscape maintenance in ways that default to organics first.
There are costs associated with moving to this program. It took Irvine a few years to realize the full financial impact, but to also start to see some savings in areas such as reduced water use as irrigation needs decrease with healthier soils. Tracking our costs in the change-over is part of the pilot program that has been rolled out.
Tucson is a leader in many things environmental. Getting this organics-first landscape program off the ground was a step that aligns with how that leadership is manifested. I’m hopeful that others around the state will join us in this.
In Ward 6 there are 42 registered neighborhood associations. Together they comprise 73% of the land. If you toss in Area Plans, fully 97% of the land in Ward 6 is covered by some sort of planning document. Compare that to the percentage in other wards:
With that data, it should come as no surprise that I led on the issue of bringing to M&C a discussion of where Neighborhood and Area Plans fit into our planning and zoning discussions. In May of this year I invited Tucson Residents for Responsive Government (TRRG) to come and present their work to M&C. The importance of the discussion is given real life relevance each time we’re evaluating new development. That truth continued even into December as the year ended with talk surrounding amending Neighborhood Preservation Zone design considerations, and Flexible Lot Development standards.
Here’s one example of where neighbors are left scratching their heads over how a project can be deemed in compliance with their Plans when the site design is in evident conflict with what surrounds it, and the clear language of our own codes: Mountain Enclave (the area in red) is 76 housing units situated on 6 acres of land surrounded by nothing close to its density.
There are numerous areas in Plans we have adopted in which we say a development must be in compliance with the terms of the Plan. Yet we have relied on a court case out of the Phoenix area in which a judge determined that based on a review of the totality of a Plan, ‘general conformity’ is all that’s necessary. The phrase has no discernible definition. It is that sort of blurred standard that has led to this months-long discussion that I began with the TRRG presentation in May.
There are legitimate restrictions on how any governing body in Arizona can approach zoning. It is State law that we cannot change zoning in ways that diminish the earning potential of a given piece of property. That’s Proposition 207, voter approved in 2006. The conversation we’re now having is how we reconcile that standard with the rights of surrounding neighbors to preserve their own quality of life, and indeed the value of their own property. The Mountain Enclave project is an easy example of how those 76 units will have a significant and negative impact on surrounding neighbors. And how it’s inconsistent with the unique character of the area. That discussion will continue into the new year.
Public policy is oftentimes finding a balancing of interests. Zoning, and competing property rights is probably the most clear example of where we’re charged with listening to varying perspectives, each driven by a person’s stake in the particular issue, and then working to find a suitable middle ground so the conclusion is not a zero sum result; one side wins, and the other side loses. I’m committed to continuing the dialog we began early this year on this topic. What we cannot do though is to allow people to be run roughshod over through the application of misguided zoning interpretations while we sort through how to possibly tweak our codes. ‘All politics is local’ has no more obvious application than how we allow development to occur.
In 2019 there were over 38,000 gun deaths in the U.S. That’s 15,000 homicides and 23,000 suicides. In addition, there wasn’t a single significant piece of gun control legislation that came out of either D.C. or Phoenix. The uniquely American epidemic of gun violence will continue until there are changes in the make up of Congress, and at the State Capitol.
On May 31st there was yet another mass shooting that took place in Virginia Beach. A dozen people were killed and 4 others were wounded. On the heels of that episode, I joined Moms Demand Action and our partners at St. Mark's Church in bringing this year’s Wear Orange event. Why orange? It’s the color of vest hunters wear. It signifies safety in the handling of a firearm.
Those of us who are concerned with the proliferation of gun deaths join on June 9th each year and call on people on all sides of the gun issue to stand for common sense gun safety legislation. That’s hunters, and people who may never have touched a firearm.
This year’s event featured the movie Parkland; Inside Building 12. It was a very poignant portrayal of the mass shooting that took place in the Parkland, Florida school. In that event 17 people were killed; both staff and students. Oh, did I mention that no legislation followed?
In the State of Arizona – in the City of Tucson – it is 100% legal to pay cash for a semi-automatic weapon out of the trunk of somebody’s car in a parking lot and walk away with no questions asked about criminal or psychological background. The Pima County Fairgrounds continues to be the host for gun shows that allow private gun sales in which nobody knows the background of the buyer. That could be stopped in a heartbeat by the County. We did it at the City – they can, too, if they choose to.
The sad reality is that the gun lobby wields power at all levels of government. But the Moms’ work will continue, and I will continue to walk arm in arm with those who are simply weary of the constant killing that happens in the United States, in part due to the feckless politicians who are in the NRA’s pocket. Let’s just say it – the Founding Fathers could not possibly have contemplated allowing civilians to purchase weapons of war on our City streets, only to see them turned on our children, friends and co-workers. That is not a rational extension of the 2nd Amendment. Sadly, we have work to do bringing that truth to the political landscape. Until we are able, we will see more mass murders, homicides and suicides.
As a transition to the July look-back, here is this combination statement on guns and migrants.
On July 4th last year we pulled together an event that was held in the sanctuary at the Benedictine. The purpose was to proclaim, from an inter-faith/non-faith basis, that the work done there on behalf of the migrants is exactly the kind of work this country was founded on. People coming from another land to seek safety, and to begin a new life. People since July 4th, 1776 have been fleeing persecution and coming to our shores. There was one memorable incident near the end of WWII in which we turned away a ship carrying Jewish refugees. There were incidents in my lifetime where we turned away people fleeing from Cuba. Now, there’s the effort by the Trump administration to shut the door on Central American families whose lives are at risk in their home countries.
On July 4th, we had people representing Catholic Community Services (CCS), a rabbi, a Muslim, Sikh, our friends from St. Mark’s, a Methodist, volunteers from the monastery, Baha’i, and Sister Joan flew back from the nuns’ new home in Missouri. The message was unanimous – what we were doing in that building is what we should stand up for, not only when celebrating Independence Day, but every day.
Across the street at the Ward 6 office, we were hosting The Art of Asylum. This is the flyer we used to promote the 2-month long exhibit.
The art was produced by the children who came through the Benedictine from Central America, mostly from Guatemala. The pictures were curated by Valarie Lee James, who also ran the ‘art room’ in the monastery. She’s still doing that work out at the new facility. The pictures told the tough story of their journey, what they left behind, and their hopes for the future. From the eyes of children, unvarnished, and real. I know hundreds of you came by to see the show. The post cards and posters they sold raised money that supported the work CCS was fostering at the monastery.
July was full of preparations to move out of the Benedictine. We saw numbers of migrants fluctuate to the point that we hosted families overnight in the Ward 6 community room on multiple occasions. I know those who came here for the night were calmed and touched by seeing pictures painted by others who had made the journey. The work received international attention. We received, and continue to receive donations in support of the humanitarian work from all over the country. Everyone who has had a hand in it should feel good about what they’ve done.
In August, the work on behalf of migrant asylum seekers at the Benedictine shifted over to the new Alitas Welcome Center. It’s a facility that was originally built to house youth who had run into trouble with the law. To their credit, the County stepped up and made it available for the work they saw us doing at the monastery. That work continues to be an important tool to ease the systemic stresses that exist in the whole border security effort. As recently as the last week of 2019, the Trump administration refused to support a humanitarian aid application put in by the County, and in doing so refused to support the value of what this community has joined in doing on behalf of the migrant families.
The narrative put out by even some of the people who said they supported the monastery work was that moving into the County facility was ‘incarcerating’ the migrants and that it would traumatize them. We have run several thousand people through the new space since the move. Not a single person felt anything close to trauma. Instead, with the changes made by the County and CCS to the new site, and the caring and support the volunteers showed for the people being dropped off by I.C.E., the families who are transitioning through Tucson at the new Welcome Center display all the gratitude and relief that we saw at the Benedictine.
Each section of the facility has been painted, locks have been removed from doors to the rooms, a medical section is in place, internet was set up so volunteers can make contact with next-of-kin, food prep is being handled 3 times per day, custodial work is provided by the County, and there are activity areas for the kids as well as continuation of the art.
This is the room we gathered in when the Welcome Center was blessed by the Bishop. This is not the face of ‘traumatizing’ our guests.
There’s still a ‘store’ in which each family is allowed to pick out a couple of changes of clothing. Remember, they arrive here with what they left their country of origin wearing. That is, everything except their shoelaces. You see, Border Patrol has a policy by which they remove shoelaces when migrants are warehoused in their detention facilities. And they are not returned when we receive the families at the Welcome Center. Because of your donations, we remedy that in the store.
Near the end of the year, the Trump administration began a policy that’s inaccurately called the Migrant Protection Protocol. It’s the Remain in Mexico policy. It means fewer guests are showing up at the Alitas Center than we have the capacity to take care of. Instead, they’re being sent back to Mexico, into areas we warn our own citizens about traveling to. And they don’t even have the ‘luxury’ of being dropped back in Mexico with shoelaces. That makes them an obvious target for gangs and cartels. Credit CCS for starting the #unintendedties program. The unintended tie is that when a gang member sees a migrant get off a bus without shoelaces, they make the connection that this is a person without local ties – and abductions are too often the result.
Come by the Ward 6 office and get yourself and kids some shoelaces with the #unintendedties logo:
Together, we will send the message that we have the capacity and the will to continue the humanitarian work being done in the new Alitas Welcome Center. And that the Remain in Mexico policy is inconsistent with Tucson values.
The monastery saga continued into September. It was then that work that included input from literally hundreds of people, multiple public meetings, a little early gamesmanship from my end, and lots of energy and time invested, ended in a good outcome. You’ll likely remember this image of what was first proposed:
The pitch was that by right they could demolish the monastery and insert over 400 rooms of student housing on the site at 44’ in height. This was the alternative we were offered. It was true that the nuns had not protected the Benedictine from demolition. That required an Historic Landmark rezoning. I initiated one, and the conversation changed.
It’s not uncommon for an opening concept to change during design development. That’s what happened here. The original 86’ tall structures on the north and south, and the 55’ tall one to the east have evolved into 55’ on the north and south and 44’ to the east. Even the larger ones on the north and south will step down as they approach Country Club so that they’re eventually at 35’. And the eastern building is down to just over 4’ taller than what was allowed by the existing zoning. Not everyone is happy about the scale, but everyone who has been paying attention has to conclude that the result is significantly superior to where this began. And certainly superior to the student housing alternative that existed even with the preservation of the monastery.
During the early design development meetings, it was made clear that in order to move the project along in a collaborative manner, we would have to place into the Miramonte Neighborhood Plan some very specific descriptors of what this project would become. That’s uncommon, and it’s one example of why I have asked to begin the process of allowing rezonings to move along concurrently with Plan Amendments. People want questions about design answered well ahead of when developers and architects are prepared to give that information under our current, very linear process. If there was ever an example of how we needed to find a legal work-around, this project was it.
The Benedictine project will result in a total of around 250 individual high-end apartments surrounding and inside of the monastery. The uses that’ll take place in the existing sanctuary are yet to be decided. I’ve heard ideas such as restaurants, an entertainment space, and retail. I know Ross has traveled around and looked at how other similar buildings have been repurposed. While the residential part of the project goes under construction early next year, he’ll continue to be mulling through the various options for how the sanctuary will be repurposed.
Earlier I mentioned that this project was one of the 10 MPA Common Grounds Awards winners. The work on behalf of migrants was one reason it won that award. The preservation of the monastery was another. The way the various community members who participated in the design process came together was yet another. Change is going to come to the 6 acre site. The jewel in the center will remain as the focal point for community gathering in some fashion for years to come.
Throughout the year we were wrestling with how to retool our recycling program. As it is currently running, the City is losing several million dollars annually. The international market has changed significantly and so commodities that we once sold into the recycle market and made a profit are now not in demand. We lose in the neighborhood of $800K annually on recycling paper. For glass we’re losing about a half a million dollars. Our contamination rates are in excess of 25% - that means, over a quarter of what people recycle is contaminated and ends up in the landfill. That costs us money, too.
Some of the conversation includes increasing rates for our recycle program, schedule changes in how and when we pick up recycle bins, and adjusting the commodities we even allow in the program. In October we implemented our “Every Other Week” system. It’s not going to result in the vast majority of people overfilling their bins. We know that because before adopting the change our Environmental and General Services (EGSD) folks surveyed and found that most people pull recycle bins out to the street weekly that are less than half-full.
Going to Every Other Week is really about the only noticeable change we made to recycling this year. We all know that a much more robust education campaign needs to happen so we can get our arms around the contamination problem. I’ve advocated that we start showing people what their recycled goods can become instead of just showing them what cannot be placed into recycle. Materials such as this, for example:
Let people see the good they’re producing and maybe that’ll help reduce the rate of contamination – and the rate of recycling itself that we’re seeing.
I’m hoping we also adopt a leadership role in addressing the whole market problem. Do you know what the largest commodity extraction industry is in the entire world? No, it’s not oil, and it’s not copper. Over 50 billion tons of SAND is being extracted worldwide. What’s it being used for? Well, cement is a huge contributor to the demand. This graph shows the irony of where it’s going:
The same country that imposed the nearly impossible to meet contamination standards is also the one that’s causing ecosystems all over Southeast Asia to suffer as a result of excessive sand extraction from water ways. So what does that have to do with our recycling problem? Well, what is sand, if not silica? Crushed glass. If we’re losing money recycling glass, why not crush it and use it to create our own local secondary market for things like filling monsoon sandbags, mixing with cement to rebuild sidewalks, or mixing with asphalt for roadbeds?
During the year I began working on some contacts provided to me by friend Val Little. She’s a WUNA resident who has experience in recycling, and glass in particular. If we can create our own local market for glass, we don’t have to send it to the landfill, and we can save money by substituting it in new applications. With that in mind, I worked with our EGSD group, purchased a glass crusher, and now we’re in operation in the Ward 6 garage, creating a new option for glass. Follow this series of graphics:
Bottles in hand:
Into the crusher they go:
In seconds, we have a new ‘product’ that has the consistency of sand. The small flecks you see are just the crushed up bottle labels.
As I said, one obvious application is to fill monsoon sandbags. Another down the road may be lining trenches, or as an additive to concrete mixes for sidewalks. Where we can creatively help ourselves through this new world of recycling, we need to at least test the waters and see if the ideas pan out.
You’ll be hearing more about the glass crusher in the days ahead. For now, what you can do to be a part of our solution is to eliminate placing contaminated items into the blue bins, and simply reduce the amount of waste you produce. You know “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.” The first step is to reduce.
For much of the year my staff and I were directly involved with shepherding migrant families through Tucson, ensuring they were treated in a compassionate and humanitarian manner. While that was happening, a group was out gathering signatures for the eventual Tucson Families Free and Together (Proposition 205) vote that took place on the November ballot. The intent was to make Tucson a “Sanctuary City.” The term was not defined in the ballot measure, nor is it defined anywhere in law, but it certainly brings with it some potential challenges.
There were 3 primary aspects to Prop 205 that caused me to openly oppose it. I did so reluctantly due to the sensitivity surrounding the issue, especially as a result of policies coming out of D.C. related to the border. The flaws in 205 simply made it bad policy.
One area that was a show stopper was the requirement built into Prop 205 that before the City could carry on joint operations with any Federal Agency, that Agency would have to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the City that limited their law enforcement authority within City limits. The promoters of 205 were unable to show a single example of where an Agency has agreed to those terms. We carry on operations with the FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration, Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms, U.S. Marshals, Secret Service and plenty more. That is work that makes Tucson a safer community. Sacrificing those relationships was not something I was willing to put at risk.
Prop 205 also restricted our ability to ask status questions of people who were detained for certain crimes that were listed by ARS Section in the ballot measure. Full transparency would have been for the promoters to have told voters what say ARS 13-3551 refers to. They chose to keep that information off the ballot. The crimes 205 said asking status questions would obstruct the investigation were things such as sexual exploitation of children, domestic violence, aggravated domestic violence, sexual assault and child molestation. I don’t believe people being detained for crimes like those should be shielded from having status be a part of a law enforcement investigation.
Another section of 205 that simply should not have been included was giving any resident the ability to bring a suit against the City for violating the terms of the Proposition. The suit would take place in City Court, and damages were to be included. The problem with that is it’s illegal. Tucson City Court has no jurisdiction over private civil causes of action. A voter initiative cannot change that. If passed, we would have had inserted into our Charter a provision that violated State law. It would have stayed there until a new vote took place removing it. Our State Shared revenues would be at risk – about $135M – while that process played itself out. Supporting a Proposition that contained illegal sections wasn’t something I was inclined to do.
Voters overwhelmingly rejected 205. During the course of the year I publicly made my concerns known. I was sued, along with the City Attorney and Police Chief, for trying to educate the public. That suit was tossed out of court, but the rhetoric that followed on social media was ugly and divisive. And it certainly did not reflect the work I’ve done in support of migrants in our community. I’ll continue that work, and my hope is that relations with those who share in that work, but who also supported 205, will heal so we can continue focusing on the larger goal of standing for the values this Country was founded on.
I’ve been writing for over a year about how Davis Monthan (DM) Air Force Base and the State Air National Guard have polluted our groundwater. They did it by allowing a fire fighting foam that contains toxic chemicals (AFFF) to get into our water supply. I could have justified placing this item as a major point of emphasis in any month of the year. But it was in December that I brought to the M&C a proposed ordinance through which I hope to ban the use or disposal of AFFF, or any fluorinated fire fighting foam, within City limits. Our attorneys are putting such an ordinance together right now. I am sure they’ll have some issues with some parts of where I want it to go, but in the end my goal is to stop the disposal of chemicals into our water system. There are options to using AFFF. If we can’t mandate the Feds to stop using toxic products, we can set an example by using non-toxic products ourselves, and prohibiting them from disposing of their toxic products within our City limits.
AFFF foams have been used at military bases all over this Country. However, in every major airport in Australia they use environmentally friendly fluorine-free foams (3F). In Manchester, Copenhagen, all over Germany and in industrial applications, they use 3F. It is only our military who specs into the purchase of fire fighting foam that is must contain the toxins. We have it in writing that when it’s used in hangers out at DM, the practice has been to dilute it and dump it into our sewer system. If its used on the runway, they hose it into the soil. It’s no wonder that the chemicals are leaching into our groundwater.
Last year I connected with a group of attorneys back on the east coast. They’re heavily involved with suing 3M and other companies who produced these products. I arranged for a meeting between them and our legal folks. The result; the City of Tucson joined in that product liability litigation. 3M settled with the State of Minnesota for $850M over the issue of contaminating their water. If they’re innocent, that’s a pretty big check to write in order to make a lawsuit disappear.
This map is one I’ve had in the newsletter in the past. The red dots are the locations of where we’ve had to shut down water wells due to concentrations of PFAS toxins that are above our self-imposed health limit.
The EPA has a health advisory of 70 parts per trillion for this stuff. Out by the Air Guard runway we’ve found it in excess of 11,000 ppt. Out by DM it’s over 1,000 ppt. The DM runway is the prominent grey sort of rectangle in the middle of the map. All the blue dots to the north of the runway represent our central well field – serving midtown. If the plume is allowed to migrate and impact those wells, the entire conversation about vulnerability and remediation changes significantly.
Every time I write about this issue I make it clear that we are currently not serving groundwater to over 90% of our customers. We serve Central Arizona Project (CAP) water. That water contains no PFAS contamination. It is also a supply that we know is limited. The CAP is allocating more water annually to users than is being replenished by natural weather systems. We joined Nevada, California and Mexico in signing onto drought contingency policies last year. More of that will be needed within the next 6 years. We know CAP water is not an endless source. We therefore cannot afford to allow our groundwater supply and our well fields to become contaminated with the toxins DM and the ANG have released.
My goal in bringing the ordinance is to prohibit the use of anything but 3F (fluorine-free foams) within the City limits, and for those instances where we’re told we don’t have the authority to impose that restriction I want a prohibition on disposal of AFFF within the City. The only way to properly dispose of it is through incineration. If DM wants to continue using the products containing PFAS, they will need to find somewhere else to get rid of it afterwards. We can certainly impose standards on the protection of our soil and groundwater.
Of all the issues we’re addressing in the City, I believe this is by far the most important one. The contamination of groundwater with what’s called a ‘forever chemical’ (it doesn’t dissipate) must be on the top of our focus. We’ll see a draft of the ordinance I’m calling for early next year. Until then, rest easy knowing Tucson Water is not serving you the stuff DM and the ANG are contaminating. And rest easy knowing that we’re working towards adopting a standard that no other City that I’m aware of in the Country has implemented. Leading by example in this case carries huge implications nation wide.
This past year was a tough one for many of us. There were some significant losses in our lives that placed into perspective many of the policy issues we’re working on. Do you remember the hype over “Y2K?” Seems like only yesterday. Now we’re on the cusp of another new decade. We at the Ward 6 office wish for you and your loved ones a healthy and connected new year, all year. We’ll be here to assist wherever we can.
Council Member, Ward 6