FLORENCE — In a controversial move that some residents pleaded for and others opposed, Pinal County will open, improve and declare as county highways two roads in Apache Junction to provide a second way out for about 400 homes just beyond the city limits.
One Mining Camp neighborhood resident told the Pinal County Board of Supervisors Wednesday that during a May 7 wildfire, she felt bad for others who couldn’t get home. “Then I realized I was the sitting duck; I couldn’t get out.”
The board voted to make passable portions of Mountain View Road and Jacob Waltz Street in Apache Junction.
Supervisor Todd House, R-Apache Junction, said he’s one of the affected residents and “this issue got me into politics.” He added if he loses his bid for reelection, that’s OK. “This issue is bigger than my reelection. I don’t care,” he told his fellow board members.
He added he has personal experience of worrying how long it would take emergency responders to reach his house. “I’m fortunate to have my wife with me today.” House participated in a Pinal County video about the roads.
Both roads go through state land and will be county roads within the city of Apache Junction, which is “interesting,” Supervisor Steve Miller, R-Casa Grande, said. County representatives have yet to reach a deal with city officials to improve the roads. Vice Mayor Chip Wilson told the board Wednesday he has discussed it with his public works director and the city is willing to assist the county.
But city officials remain worried about opening the roads to the general public. “We’ve had a lot of problems with dumping, liability issues,” and “we’d like to have some definite guarantees from the county,” Wilson said. He said the city understands the need for access but there are other routes that could accomplish the goal. He also suggested the roads could be gated for emergency access only.
A Jacob Waltz Street resident asked the board to improve the roads and gate them. This would keep out transients, trash dumpers and ATV riders, and “everybody wins,” she said.
But Supervisor Mike Goodman, R-San Tan Valley, said he couldn’t agree to spend that amount of money for emergency access only. He said similar situations exist in other parts of the county, including in his district. “I feel for this situation. … the bottom line for me is safety.”
Another resident said the county had already been surveying and delivering fill material before Wednesday’s resolution was even official. He continued that the state’s conveyance of right of way is also not yet official, and the county should first hear if citizens even want the roads.
House said there have been a couple of public meetings with neighborhood residents on the issue, and the State Land Department’s decision was unanimous, “we just haven’t gotten the paperwork.” Joe Ortiz with Pinal County Public Works told the board that county personnel have in fact been out to survey the roads in anticipation of scheduling the work.
Daniel Stubbs, a Prospector Road resident who’s retired from the Mesa Fire Department, told the board that fire code actually requires a second access point to the neighborhood and he’s “baffled” that the county continues to issue building permits despite this. He said that when he first moved there, there were four ways in and out, and now there is only one.
“Shame on AJ,” another retiree told the supervisors, for not having proper concern for his and his neighbors’ safety. Although they don’t live in the city limits, they shop in Apache Junction and are “part of their tax base,” he said.
Apache Junction Councilwoman Robin Barker told the board it’s “somewhat untrue” to say the city has been uncooperative with the county. She said the county’s proposed agreement leaves out several critical issues important to Apache Junction. She also echoed the other speaker that the county may be acting before it even officially has the right of way. “A cashed check doesn’t mean approval,” she said.
Not everyone agrees
Not everyone wanted to see the roads opened and improved. A Wickiup Road resident who said she enjoys riding horses on state land said that before the roads were blocked off, there was trash dumping and ATV riders cutting fences. But since the roads have been closed, she has been able to enjoy pristine views of the Superstition Mountains and the surrounding area.
She urged the board to consider an alternative route for safety vehicles that she said would be shorter and less expensive to improve.
Another resident bemoaned the loss of his view of the Superstitions and told the board their ultimate goal was a four-lane road from U.S. 60 to State Route 88, also known as North Apache Trail. House asked Ortiz if this was in fact the county’s long-term goal, and Ortiz replied no.
Apache Junction closed part of Jacob Waltz Street in 2018, and the unincorporated community was left with just one access point: a portion of Nodak Road that connects to State Route 88, Ortiz told the board.
The county will bring in fill material and build a double-chip-seal surface and erosion control structures on Mountain View Road from Singletree Street to Tepee Street, and on Jacob Waltz Street from Mountain View Road to Nodak Road. It will cost the county perhaps $220,000 to do this work, Ortiz told the board.
The resolution the board approved Wednesday actually includes longer sections of both roads, to give the county ability to work on other legs as needed in the future.
Pinal County officials applied to the State Land Department for the road rights of way, and in February received a notice of appraisal from State Land, Ortiz told the board. On March 12, the State Land Department’s Board of Appeals accepted the county’s application for conveyance of right of way, and the Pinal County supervisors approved it April 8. The county received an invoice from State Land, paid it, and the State Land Department cashed the check, Ortiz said.