By Rose Law Group Reporter staff
Pinal County supervisors Wednesday unanimously approved a resolution urging the Arizona Land Department to approve the sale of state land within six months to Union Pacific Railroad for the proposed Red Rock railway exchange project. Supervisors said there’s a danger the county could lose the project to New Mexico because of foot dragging by the land department, and 300 jobs could be lost.
“The State Land Department has also erroneously claimed that an economically beneficial project like the Union Pacific Classification yard would lower the value of contiguous properties,” Pinal County Assessor Douglas Wolf told the supervisors. “It is the official opinion of the Pinal County Assessor’s Office that the values of adjacent land would increases a result of a strategic infrastructure project like the Union Pacific Classification Yard,” stated the resolution “They certainly would not go down in value, as the land department and their California based consultants have so speciously claimed.”
Wolf said taxes on real estate provide approximately 40 percent of the county budget, yet 75 percent of the land in Pinal is non-taxable.
“This project would allow us to get more property onto the tax rolls and either increase revenue to the county, lower the tax burden on existing residents or a combination of both. Those benefits are on top of the high compensation jobs that Union Pacific would bring to our region,” he said.
Union Pacific, which said it has the money to buy the land, wants to build its biggest yard between Los Angeles and Texas along the east side of Interstate 10 on farmland owned by the Arizona State Land Trust. Union Pacific first applied with the Arizona State Land Department to buy the land in 2006, but various circumstances stalled the project.
Wolf took issue with what he called the “misguided” Gruen study done by San Francisco-based urban economists.
“This report concocts a litany of faults with Pinal County – many of which would be remedied or mitigated by the presence of a state of the art facility, such as the Union Pacific project,” Wolf said. “They misguidedly try to claim a lack of jobs in Pinal County is justification from blocking new jobs in Pinal County.”
He said the study did not contact the assessor about property values, nor any stakeholders
“I enthusiastically support today’s resolution and look forward to the synergistic economic benefits that this project will bring to our county. Further, I request that the Governor remind the State Land Department of their obligation to leverage market opportunities in order to maximize the financial benefit for the trustees. The jobs and future economic return that this project will provide to Pinal County and to Arizona are too valuable to delay any longer,” Wolf said.
U.S. Rep. Trent Franks several months ago wrote a letter to Gov. Jan Brewer. “It would be deeply disappointing if our state cannot act fast enough to capture this opportunity,” Franks wrote, concluding, “I can think of no plausible reason for not taking action.”
And state Senate President Andy Biggs, calling himself “an advocate for this important project,” wrote he is frustrated by how long the auction has taken. He also criticized the consultants’ findings and said, “It is imperative that this auction be scheduled by the end of the year.”
Red Rock would be a switching yard. The facility would be six miles long and up to 74 tracks wide. There, Union Pacific workers would break apart trains and reassemble them based on the destinations of cargo. Union Pacific said even if the land is sold quickly, it might be years before it opens because the company will have to iron out engineering complexities.
Union Pacific is developing a similar site in eastern New Mexico.