By Naomi Hatch
The Second Knolls Development Regional Study focused on an approximate 100-square mile area located northwest of Snowflake. A grant was received for a transportation study for the area, and last month Michael Gorton, senior transportation planner for HDR Engineering, and representatives from the Arizona Department of Transportation held an outreach session on it.
Gorton attended a work session with members of the Snowflake Town Council prior to the Nov. 19 council meeting to update them on the study that brought together public and private stakeholders from the Arizona Commerce Authority, the Arizona State Land Department, Aztec Land & Cattle Company, Bureau of Land Management, Pigs for Farmer John, Real AZ Development Council, Rocking Chair Ranch, Inc. and the Snowflake-Taylor Economic Development Committee to come up with a transportation vision for the area.
ADOT oversaw the study with a technical advisory committee that included representatives from the towns of Snowflake and Taylor, Navajo County and the Northern Arizona Council of Governments.
Efforts focused on opportunities that would take advantage of the region’s assets and development that support transportation, such as the Apache Railway, the Interstate 40 corridor, the Taylor Airport and White Mountain Connect, and was geared toward bringing industry that would provide jobs into the community.
Gorton explained that when this process began it was a different time, but the loss of the Catalyst paper mill really changed the planning, which moved more toward how the original assets could be leveraged.
Some of the assets are few congestion or safety problems, and plenty of capacity to support long-term growth without any improvement.
Previous plans were included in the transportation framework to reflect the Aztec area plan, the bypass alternative and Snowflake-Taylor Multi-Jurisdictional Transportation Plan, and they coordinated with Taylor and Snowflake officials.
They reviewed case studies that would be similar to what is in the Second Knolls area, and developed comparisons for an industrial cluster, inland ports, forest products and a transload facility.
Second Knolls does not have direct access to large metropolitan markets since the Phoenix area is approximately 180 miles away, but attributes are the availability and price of open land, connections with major transportation networks, availability of public roads and utilities, understanding of community assets and liabilities, public-private partnerships, supportive zoning and land development regulations, interagency coordination and involvement, strong local leadership and a skilled labor force.
Inland ports were studied, but Gorton said, “There’s a lot that has to happen. The biggest is the market proximity.” He said he felt that inland ports may not be the best thing for this area.
“You are strong in forest properties,” said Gorton, noting Second Knolls’ attributes for forest products are a reliable supply of forest products, an existing mill site for redevelopment, state highway access, interstate highway access and shortline connection to a Class I railroad.
“There were a lot of examples where paper mills closed,” he continued. “This would be worth putting more effort in, at least according to case study.”
Gorton explained transload facility as a warehousing facility that provides transportation between truck and rail, and he felt that this had the best success stories for assets in the Second Knolls area.
It was recommended by a resident attending the public open house that call centers or data centers be researched. Representatives of the study said they would do some research on getting the trunks from Holbrook to Second Knolls, and that they would incorporate this into the final report.
Gorton said that HDR Engineering will provide a marketing brochure to showcase the area, which can be used as a lead-along.
When asked by a citizen why they were doing the plan since the paper mill is no longer there, Gorton replied, “The plan will show that the community is really serious about planning. The next step would be going into a corridor study.”
The final plan will be available for review online at www.azdot.gov/planning/CurrentStudies/PARAStudies/snowflake-second-knolls-development-transportation-study.
By Naomi Hatch