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Dust from farm closes I-10 fourth day in a row

Posted at 6:22 PM, May 17, 2016
and last updated 2016-05-18 12:19:30-04
SAN SIMON, Ariz. (KGUN9-TV) - Powerful dust storms moved across Interstate 10 Tuesday causing a 60-mile stretch of the highway to shut down once again. 
 
All because of a single farm. 
 
"There's a lot of loose soil on it," Arizona Department of Public Safety Trooper Kameron Lee. "So anytime we're getting sustained winds of 13-15 miles per hour, it's picking all that top soil up and it's just carrying it right across the interstate."
 
This is the fourth day in a row that authorities have had to shut down I-10 in this area because of activity on farm land. It's the seventh time in six weeks that blowing dust has led to low visibility and freeway closures. 
 
During the closure, eastbound traffic is detoured at mile post 352 through Safford, Ariz. Westbound traffic is detoured in Lordsburg, New Mexico. The detour adds about 50 miles. 
 
In an emailed statement, an Arizona Department of Environmental Quality spokeswoman called the dust issue from this land "unacceptable." The agency confirmed that the land is owned by a man named David Turner.
 
ADEQ says Turner is new to the area and is unfamiliar with Arizona soils. The property in question was recently plowed. Before the owner plowed the land, the property had mesquite trees growing on it. The owner eventually has plans to put an orchard there. 
 
The dust issues began the first week in April, according to DPS. 
 
Since the ADEQ became aware of the issue, they have worked proactively and diligently with Turner, ADOT, DPS and the Department of Agriculture to solve the problem.
 
In collaboration with ADOT and the Department of Agriculture, ADEQ has deployed state resources to mitigate the dust issue and arranged for stepped up watering of the farm.
 
ADEQ says it has worked on a consent order with Turner to remedy the situation, which was finalized and went into effect immediately. That order included: 
 
  • Cease tilling/cropland leveling activities on undisturbed soil
  • Applying a chemical stabilizer to create a crust and prevent blowing dust
  •  Planting vegetative cover
  •  Limiting the amount of acreage disturbed in the future
 
ADEQ says Turner has been slow to comply with the terms of the consent order.
 
ADEQ is re-deploying State resources to mitigate the dust issue and could eventually penalize the owner up to $10,000 per day if the issue is not taken care of. 
 
ADEQ confirmed Wednesday that it has contracted with a Scottsdale-based company called Soilworks to remedy the dust on the land. 
 
According to the company, it is sending almost 45,000 gallons of its Gorilla-Snot product to quell the dust storm. Gorilla-Snot is an eco-safe, biodegradable, liquid copolymer used to provide erosion control and dust suppression.
 
The company says it will take 162 totes from Soilworks, carried on 10 trucks to supply the recommended amount of dust control product to control the wayward dust.
 
At the end of April, the dust from this same farm caused several serious accidents, one involving a DPS trooper.
 
Since then, DPS has decided to shut down the interstate instead and route traffic through Safford. 
 
"We don't make this decision lightly to close the interstate," said Lee. "We know that it inconveniences a lot of people, but we've seen what can happen when people do drive into these dust storms. We've seen the severe damage to vehicles, injuries. Luckily we haven't had any death as a result yet. We don't plan to that's why we're closing the interstate down."
 
Lee says if the winds continue this week, drivers can expect the same closures to continue. Check KGUN9.com before you head out to get the latest driving conditions.