Jul 132011

By Linda Kor–

It was approximately three years ago that the Arizona Geological Survey brought to light the potential of a vast reserve of potash within the Holbrook Basin. Since that time, Passport Potash, one of three companies exploring the possibility of mining the area, has begun to receive feedback on core samples indicating that the potash in the region is not only abundant, but also of a high grade. That, in addition to the rising demand for potash, means that Holbrook and the surrounding communities may be in line to experience an economic boon in the near future.

An economic comparison could be drawn to the community of Safford, which experienced an economic boon in 2006 when Phelps Dodge came to the area and opened a copper mine.

At that time Safford was a community of approximately 9,000 residents with an average household income of less than $25,000. With the development of Phelps Dodge Corp.’s copper mine, came 500 construction jobs and that number doubled six months later. As a result of this influx, new retail industry came to town, as well as other amenities that added improvements to the community. Since that time the population has increased by approximately 1,000 residents and the average household income has increased to $53,370.

While Safford’s copper mines have hit some highs and lows, potash mining has every indication of remaining in high demand due to the increasing need for the nutrient in agriculture and a limited supply. Though the U.S. is the world’s largest crop producer, it historically has mined little potash, instead relying on mines in Canada.

Economic analysts estimate the basin could produce one million to two million tons of potash annually, or about three percent of current global production. Because the site is along a rail line connected to the Port of Long Beach in California, producers could export supplies to Asia. The three biggest players in the area include Passport Potash, HNZ Potash and Prospect Global (American West Potash), with 81 drilling permits issued by the Arizona Oil And Gas Conservation Commission since June 2009.

Even with the knowledge of the potential influx of more residents, tax dollars and retail business, preparing for such a possibility has its limitations. Today’s economy has made housing developers cautious and cities weary of budget cuts being handed down from every level of government. The result is a wary eye at investments in growth, and possibilities for expansion are carefully considered.

With that in mind the indication is that within the next two years there will be an increased need for housing in the area. In Holbrook, there is plenty of room for home building, but concerns over sewer infrastructure have prompted City Manager Ray Alley to request that a flow study be conducted to determine the capabilities of the existing sewer lines.

Although city staff has stated in the past that there are several areas that would bottleneck should new housing be developed and added to the sewage system, there has been no official determination of that fact. Once the flow study is complete, areas that represent a problem may be able to be dealt with by replacing existing pipes in some areas with larger pipes rather than planning for an entirely new and costly sewage line.

“It could be as simple as replacing pipe while we’re already replacing sidewalks for street repairs. Once we get the flow study we’ll know what we’re dealing with,” stated Finance Director Randy Sullivan.

In the area of temporary housing, some business owners are looking to revive existing locations like the Moen Kopi Motel on Navajo Blvd. The city is also considering providing some temporary housing options. “We may even look at leasing the dormitory at the old Northland Pioneer College site on Hermosa Street if extra housing is needed,” stated Sullivan.

He also noted that officials of one of the companies exploring the mining options here have indicated that they may want to build a subdivision in the community.