Mobile isn't the only place in Arizona where the words "hazardous waste" can set off a riot.
Just last week, a Scottsdale businessman decided to withdraw a proposal to construct a $7.5 million recycling plant in Guadalupe because a group of angry citizens in the tiny, impoverished, industry-starved Yaqui Indian town along Interstate 10 and Guadalupe Road thought the whole idea reeked.
The imbroglio began several months ago when two Guadalupe moms, Laura Valencia and Darlene Tapia, discovered that Dean Thomas, a Scottsdale investor, had talked to town leaders about building a recycling plant on several empty acres on the southern edge of town. The recycling plant was to be built near a Guadalupe barrio and a few businesses.
The plant would more or less mine garbage trucked in from other parts of the Valley. Recyclables like cans, papers, food (you can make compost out of it) and plastics would be sorted and processed. Garbage that couldn't be recycled would be hauled away to landfills outside the town limits. Thomas told the Guadalupe Economic Development Commission, a group of community leaders, that the plant would pose no health threat to residents because it would follow federal and state health and environmental laws. He insisted that no toxic or hazardous waste would be accepted or recycled. He said the recycling plant would open up about 65 jobs, with starting pay at $6 an hour. The commission recommended the recycling plant to the Guadalupe Town Council as a good business opportunity. But Thomas withdrew his proposal before it even got on the town council's agenda.
What happened was that Valencia and Tapia didn't think the recycling plant was such a great idea. The women immediately began circulating petitions opposing the project. Before long, Manuel Vasquez, executive director of the Maricopa County Organizing Project, an advocacy group for Hispanics, caught wind of the petitions and offered to help the women.
Valencia and Vasquez both say they're all for recycling. They think it's a wonderful concept. It's just that they want the recycling plants to be somewhere outside Guadalupe.
Within weeks about 300 Guadalupe residents had signed the petitions opposing the recycling plant. Valencia says the petitioners were worried about odor, flies and rodents. And she says people don't believe for a minute that toxic chemicals aren't going to somehow leak into Guadalupe groundwater from garbage that contains nail-polish bottles and Drano cans. Plus, some Guadalupe residents don't want their village to be known as the Valley's garbage mecca.
Thomas says he decided to withdraw the proposal to build the plant because the residents' opposition "bordered on viciousness." He figured he didn't want to do business in a town where he was so clearly unwanted.
"It's absurd what this got twisted to," he says of the successful campaign against his plant. "It could have made Guadalupe a forerunner in the environmental movement."
But Vasquez, of the organizing project, couldn't be happier. "Guadalupe has been saved," he says. "Industries like that shouldn't be in the barrios. Just because there's high unemployment doesn't mean we have to accept recycling plants."
Vasquez says he hopes town leaders will work hard to bring employment opportunities to Guadalupe in the "cultural, educational or tourist" fields.
"Garbage will always be garbage," he concludes, adding that Guadalupe deserves "something more pleasant.