State authorities say they are still pursuing legal action against a San Simon farmer whose fallowed fields were blamed for blowing dust that obscured Interstate 10 on multiple occasions in April and May last year — resulting in crashes and closures.
The Arizona Department of Environmental Quality referred the issue to the Attorney General’s Office on Oct. 6.
Timothy Franquist, director of the agency’s air quality division, said his department is still pursing “formal enforcement.”
“We are still determining the depth and breadth of the violation,” Franquist said. “Because it is with the AG’s office, we’re not allowed to talk about the details.”
Mia Garcia, spokeswoman for Attorney General Mark Brnovich, said there is “nothing we can say at this time.”
The interstate was closed eight times in April and May for crashes or detours when dust reduced visibility adjacent to David R. Turner’s Agrigold Farms near San Simon east of Tucson.
The Department of Environmental Quality ordered Turner to stabilize the dust on his land and then joined with the state Department of Transportation to begin that process.
State agencies, including the Department of Public Safety, reported spending a combined $600,000 on emergency response to three multiple-vehicle accidents, interstate detours and mitigation of Turner’s fields.
Recovering those costs remains an issue, Franquist said. “We’re looking at all expenses outlaid by the state and any appropriate penalties,” he said.
Franquist said his department has continued to inspect conditions on Turner’s orchards and has uncovered no problems since the state took action to stabilize the soil in May.
“It’s a combination of a few things: Yes, the (soil stabilizer) Gorilla Snot does seem to be holding up, the farmer is vegetating some of the area and Mother Nature helped. We had some good winter rains,” Franquist said.
He said ADEQ is now working to address other areas of the state where blowing dust is a chronic problem.
“I think the Turner situation, in and of itself, is an isolated issue. It elucidated a larger issue along the I-10 corridor in places like Picacho Peak, northwest of Tucson,” Franquist said. “If nothing else, it’s been a launch pad to light a fire for all the agencies. That it is an issue statewide that we really need to address.”
That dusty and deadly stretch of I-10 in Pinal County will be the focus of the sixth annual dust workshop, held by the National Weather Service, the Arizona Department of Transportation and ADEQ Tuesday at Central Arizona College in Coolidge.