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Hidden Valley

State legislator Mark Finchem speaks with residents of Hidden Valley. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

Republican Mark Finchem and Democrat Tom O’Halleran agree on at least one thing regarding Interstate 11. Both expect to be deceased before the proposed roadway becomes a reality.

Finchem, a District 11 state representative spoke to Hidden Valley residents last week in a gathering attended by Blanca Varela, a representative from Congressman O’Halleran’s office, at Mountain View Community Church.

The proposed interstate is a long-range goal of Arizona Department of Transportation and is expected to pass through Hidden Valley south of Maricopa.

While Finchem has been outspoken against I-11, O’Halleran has remained neutral. Varela said the congressman had expressed to her the project was too far off for him to take a stand.

Projections are for construction of I-11 in Arizona to begin in 25 to 30 years, if it is approved.

As a Republican, Finchem said he was a voice in the wilderness asking the process to slow down.

“I’ll be the first one to disclose that I’m at odds with the Pinal County supervisors and some folks that are elected officials in the [City] of Maricopa,” Finchem said. “They see economic development for an expressway coming up. Well, maybe.”

County Supervisor Anthony Smith and Mayor Christian Price have expressed support for an I-11 route that would sweep close to south Maricopa as it travels from Mexico to Wickenburg. Its ultimate destination is Las Vegas, Nevada. Smith said at an Aug. 8 GOP gathering in Maricopa there may be a decision on the route details by spring.

Several residents of Hidden Valley are already opposed to the idea because of the choice of route that would cut through Hidden Valley, taking a handful of existing homes. They have been pushing for a route that would take Interstate 8 traffic to Gila Bend and then north to west Phoenix.

Finchem has not warmed to the idea of any route. He said the push for I-11 was a sign priorities are off.

“We have secondary roads, county roads, that are in such a state of disrepair that generally you have to drive about 15 mph below the speed limit just so you don’t rattle yourself to death,” he said. “We don’t have financial resources to pay for even more roadway that’s going to require maintenance.”

He said he preferred infrastructure projects that support areas where growth has already occurred. Primarily, he pushed for rail to accomplish what he said is the main purpose of I-11.

“The justification for I-11 has been freight. Not passenger-car traffic. It’s freight,” he said. “I’m missing something here. Let’s move the freight from Mexico to a switching yard and railyard on the west side of Phoenix, which, by the way, is more jobs, offload the trailers and tractors, pair them up, and they can go on to the piece of road that’s already there.”

Both Finchem and Varela said a “huge mistake” constituents make when providing public comment on projects like I-11 is “signing their name to somebody else’s letter.” While organized groups may find it convenient to copy a letter written by one of them and have everyone send it in individually with their own name attached, Finchem said it becomes obvious fairly quickly.

“All of those letters, in our minds, count as one,” he said.

Varela said personal letters about personal impact carry much more weight.

Blanca Varela (left) represents the office Congressman Tom O’Hallern at the meeting. Next to her is Maryeileen Flanagan, one of the organizers of an anti-I-11 campaign in Hidden Valley. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

Maryeileen Flanagan points out her home on the I-11 map. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

A new interstate highway planned through Arizona will sweep through Hidden Valley, and residents are irate.

The Federal Highway Administration is seeking feedback on the proposed I-11 corridor. It has primarily been promoted as the first direct connection between Phoenix and Las Vegas, though it ultimately could link Mexico to Canada.

More than 130 people have joined the “Stop I-11 in Hidden Valley” Facebook group, and they have begun meeting to strategize opposition to what is being shopped as the preferred route. Thursday, a group of about 20 gathered in Linda Sullivan’s house, which is near of the freeway’s path.

The freeway corridor is 2,000 feet wide and would necessitate the demolition of occupied homes.

“Some people have built their dream homes out here,” Sullivan said.

“The big intention of this freeway is to connect Nogales all the way to Vegas,” said Maryeileen Flanagan, who has been watching the project for years. “There’s a huge amount of goods transported via truck. This really is about the trucking industry.”

Flanagan’s home is in the path of the “recommended” alternative, which follows sections of the “green” and “purple” routes. She built her own house 1996.

Nevada completed the first leg of its part of the interstate, from Boulder City to Lake Mead, last year. Such a highway has been discussed in one form another for 25 years but was not formally designated until 2015. Flanagan said some of the data and maps of Hidden Valley being used in the study are outdated, according to recent reports from the Arizona Department of Transportation.

As the planned freeway from Marana to Buckeye comes through the Maricopa area, it is divided into three alternatives. What is called the “orange” alternative follows Interstate 8 to Gila Bend and then cuts north to Buckeye and on to Wickenburg. That alternative, however, has mostly fallen out of discussion because of the distance.

Santina Johnson, who has ongoing battles with Pinal County, believes the “orange” is being ignored because Maricopa, Casa Grande and Pinal County are pushing it through Hidden Valley.

Hidden Valley residents gather in the Sullivan home to talk strategy.

The shorter alternatives, “green” and “purple” go through the populated areas of Hidden Valley, following a path along Barnes Road east to west, passing south of the Nissan proving grounds until it reaches Amarillo Valley Road, where it starts to run northwest and passes through the Palo Verde Regional Park. It would cross State Route 238 at Mobile and continue on to Buckeye.

Johnson said residents of the City of Maricopa “are being fed the B.S. that the I-11 will take traffic off the 347.”

Janet Hedgpeth said no one in the county government would care if residents of Hidden Valley dropped off the face of the earth. Johnson described the area as having high numbers of senior, low-income, disabled and Hispanic residents.

Several members of the group wanted to plan confrontations with Mayor Christian Price and other elected officials in Maricopa and Pinal County, even introducing a recall of County Supervisor Anthony Smith, but others said it was smartest to go straight to the federal level and cut off the funding.

“We also need to make sure those are people who have the potential to have some impact in our behalf,” Hedgpeth said.

Flanagan has reached out to U.S. Congressman Tom O’Halleran and U.S. senators Kyrsten Sinema and Martha McSally. Sinema’s office responded immediately and said the senator or one of her representatives would attend a future meeting in Hidden Valley.

“We need to focus on our baby steps to get to our goal,” Sullivan said.

The public comment period ends July 8. A decision on the final route is expected in early 2020.

Flanagan said it comes down to money, inferring Pinal County wants the highway only as a driver of economic development. The county, she said, is the second largest in the state but has the least amount of available land for development and to make revenue, “because we have so much reservation land, state land, federal land.”

“So, they are desperate to do something to generate revenue,” she said. “They have to do something, so they can stay relevant.”

“It’s a good thing that people get up in arms, but the politicians don’t really give a damn what we think,” said Joe Abodeely. “What you have to do is something that affects them. For instance: ‘You going to be running for office next time? I’m going to do everything I can to make sure you don’t get elected.’”


Supervisor Smith talks county economy, development

Supervisor Anthony Smith talks with Hidden Valley residents. Photo by Jim Headley

Pinal County Supervisor Anthony Smith had a public meeting for residents of the Hidden Valley/Thunderbird Farms area Thursday afternoon at the Raceway Bar and Grill.

Topics of discussion included the flood in the area when Hurricane Rosa parked over the region for about 18 hours in October. Also discussed were roads, taxes, the Thunderbird Fire Department and the local economy.

Smith brought several Pinal County managers and department supervisors with him to Thursday’s Hidden Valley meeting.

During the Hurricane Rosa flood of 2018, the Hidden Valley area was heavily impacted with lots of water, particularly Vekol Wash.

“There was about an 18-hour period where it just dumped a lot of rain and a lot of water in that area,” said Chris Wanamaker, Pinal County Flood Control section chief. “In that storm, we got almost what we would normally get in a whole year. In one area, we measured near the county yard, it was close to eight inches over the full three months. During the storm it was closer to three-and-a-half inches.”

Wanamaker said Rosa was a 10-year storm event and it cause a serious damage to private and public property.

“We identified 48 damage sites, private property and damage in homes. Some reports had 20 homes with water in them,” Wanamaker said.

In the coming fiscal year, a study of the Hidden Valley area is being launched to determine its vulnerability to flooding.

“This is an area that has not been studied before. That is the first step to moving into construction projects to negate flooding in the future,” he said, adding the study will look at existing data, damage estimates, talking to residents, typography and drainage patterns.

“We are identifying where are the projects needs and what sort of projects can we do,” Wanamaker said. “There are channels and basins, combinations of those, bridges and such. The goal of the study is to get a list of projects that we can actually build to reduce flooding on private property and reduce damage to public infrastructure.”

Wanamaker said he already knew there was extensive damage to the Hidden Valley area from Rosa, but after talking to residents at Thursday’s meeting, he said, “We probably have more flooding damage out there than we were aware of.  Not everybody calls us.”

Pinal County Emergency Manager Charles Kmet said there was about $700,000 damage to the county’s infrastructure during the Rosa event.

“After the event is over part of what our role is, is the recovery of that community or jurisdiction,” Kmet said. “What we did specifically with Rosa is we gathered all the information from public works road crews as to how much it was costing them to repave roads, fix roads and clear debris. We were able to put a dollar figure to that.”

He said that figure of almost $700,000 was submitted to the state department of emergency military affairs and to the governor’s office. With a state gubernatorial emergency declaration, funding is opened from the governor’s emergency fund for 75 percent reimbursement.

“Each year the governor’s office has a pot of $4 million to handle disasters around the state,” Kmet said, adding the county applied for and was approved for the emergency declaration by the governor.

The matter is before the department of emergency military affairs for their analysis of the flood damage.

Meanwhile, Smith updated residents on the county’s financial status.

“Pinal County was the first county to come out of and recover from the recession,” said Smith. “We have tremendously reduced our poverty level and hauled in a lot of jobs. Our population keeps growing at a brisk pace and our growth rate is around three percent. We have some great projects that are happening in the county. There is going to be more happening in the Hidden Valley area once the overpass is completed because a lot of development interest are looking to the south.”

He said there is a lot of industrial expansion coming to the county. He said there is a coming factory for Lucent Motors going to be built in the county as well as an Attesa race and test track that will be four times larger than the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The huge facility will be used as research and development for the auto industry.

“Lucent is going to be breaking ground in the spring. The Attesa track will be breaking ground in the fall. So those are just two of the big projects that will be coming to the area,” Smith said. “We have a lot of good stuff happening in the county. We continue to find additional revenue that we are able to use to lower the tax rate.”

He said five years ago, Pinal County had the second highest tax rate in the state. Today, Pinal is fourth highest on the list of 15 counties in Arizona. Smith said the supervisors’ goal is to be in the middle of the pack.

“This year we will probably reduce our tax rate and the next year we will probably reduce our tax rate again. It helps a lot of the small businesses because they are not protected by what is called the 1-percent cap,” Smith said.

Photo by Jim Headley

Photo by Bruce McLaughlin

This week’s damage caused by flash flooding in Hidden Valley, specifically through Vekol Wash, is still being determined. Flowing water blocked some roads and destroyed others. Land, homes and outbuildings were damaged. Ralston Road, Amarillo Valley Road and Louis Johnson Road all had sections washed out. Pinal County estimates 20 affected homes. The rushing water moved north and flooded Ak-Chin Southern Dunes Golf Course with “catastrophic” results, causing more damage and forcing the course’s closure until at least next week. Bruce McLaughlin of McLaughlin Air shared photos of what he witnessed, including Greg McLaughlin rescuing his 4-year-old Arabian colt from the corner of Warren and Papago roads, where the Vekol crested and flowed into homes.

Photo by Bruce McLaughlin
Photo by Bruce McLaughlin
Photo courtesy Ak-Chin Southern Dunes
Photo by Bruce McLaughlin
Photo by Bruce McLaughlin
Photo by Bruce McLaughlin
Photo by Bruce McLaughlin
Photo by Bruce McLaughlin
Photo by Bruce McLaughlin

The remains of a pickup truck are hauled away from the remains of a house after a fatal crash. PCSO photo

A truck backed into a Hidden Valley home Wednesday night, causing a fire and leaving the driver dead. Two people in the home were rescued, but the house and a nearby recreational vehicle were destroyed.

The deceased man has not yet been identified.

The residents did not recognize him or his truck and did not know why he was on the property in the 1900 block of Brower Lane.

According to Pinal County Sheriff’s Office, the pickup truck backed into the house at around 10:30 p.m.

“At this point in the investigation, it appears as though the truck backed into a corner of the house and got stuck,” Sheriff Paul Babeu said. “The truck engine raced as the rear tires spun and disintegrated. The spinning tires appear to have ignited the fire, which quickly consumed the house, truck and RV.”

The crash awoke the man and woman in the house. They found the male driver unresponsive. When the house ignited, the couple fled to the back yard, and became trapped.

A PCSO deputy and U.S. Border Patrol arrived on the scene at about the same time to find the house and truck fully engulfed in flames. They heard screaming from the back yard, where they found the residents trapped in fenced area with their two dogs.

The enclosure was six-foot wrought-iron fencing with a locked gate that the couple could not open or climb over. The border agent knocked down a section with his vehicle to free them. The two people, both 57, had only minor injuries.

“I am thankful for the quick actions of the deputy and the U.S. Border Patrol agent to get this couple and their dogs safely away from the burning house,” Babeu said.

The incident is under investigation.

Pinal County Sheriff’s Office is investigating the death of 3-year-old girl who lived on North Ralston Road.

According PCSO spokesman Mark Clark, a 911 call was received Thursday at 6:20 a.m. from a woman reporting the child in medical distress. She said she was driving the girl to the hospital.

Deputies and paramedics met the driver near the corner of Amarillo Valley Road and Century Road, where she had pulled to the side of the road at the dispatcher’s request. The driver was described as a caregiver to the child.

The girls was in “full code” when paramedics arrived. They began life-saving measures, and the child was taken by ambulance to the hospital but could not be revived. She died in the emergency room, according to Clark.

The cause of death has not been released.

The girl lived with her natural mother and two other adult females at a home on North Ralston Road near Maricopa. Three other children living at the home have been removed by the Department of Child Safety, Clark said.