“THAT SPOT IS NOT THAT SCENIC!” BUILDING ROSEMONT MINE: EARNING THE PUBLIC TRUST! SELLING ARIZONA’S NEXT OPEN PIT MINE
Southern Arizona is at a crossroads. Globalization has a bulls-eye on Arizona’s quality of life, Asian rim companies are screaming for copper and China is locking up existing supply to assure themselves of the minerals they will need to grow their rapidly expanding economy. Meanwhile gold and copper mining stock is the perfect long-term hedge against inflation and a shaky stock market so resort towns, retirement communities and cities in a dozen states have mines starting up with five miles of many communities. In southern Arizona alone, within five miles of each city, like Tucson, it has 1,741 claims. Green Valley has 864 claims, Tombstone has 451, Sierra Vista has 102, Sonoita has 43, Bisbee 114, Rio Rico 31, Tumacacori 21, Tubac has 18 claims within five miles of each Arizona town. By comparison, Phoenix has 5131 claims within five miles of the Greater Metropolitan area. Mining companies know political change is in air and if they don’t grandfather in their claims to the 1872 mining law, which gives them acres of land at $5 an acre to crush and pulverize tons of ore to find enough gold to make a single gold ring. The 1872 Mining Law is an antiquated piece of legislation which has been attacked each congress and will change as soon as the votes arrive….most investors want to see who will win the November election.
As metals prices rise, it is likely that many of these claims will be developed into mines, fueled by the nation’s antiquated 1872 Mining Law, which does not provide citizens or government officials any way to stop a mine from being developed on any valid claims, short of buying out the claim or direct intervention by the Secretary of the Interior, a very rare event. And a buyout assumes the claim holder wants to sell.
Meanwhile most existing southern Arizona mines, both large and small, continue to explore around Southern Arizona, sampling, testing old claims and watching, waiting to see what happens to Rosemont Copper’s bid to build a open pit along a scenic highway and tap a phantom water source. Southern Arizona alone has 3000 claims and once Rosemont shovels are in the ground, developing other claims will be a slam dunk by expanding the overall mine complex presently planned for four square miles. Several other mines are watching how the Rosemont experience unfolds. Soon the rush for mineral rights in Southern Arizona will make the 49 Gold Rush look silly in comparison with the $Billions of copper and silver, gold that will reward its owner, not U.S. citizens, but foreign mining companies who will mine out this land, take our mineral wealth, ship it to China and sell it back to us…fivefold the price. When they leave, their mess will be our problem forever. The upside is where?
Where miners have scratched Arizona soil they have found a rich mineral soil full of gold, silver and copper, and other rare earth minerals needed now for electronics, like plasma TV’s–the entire Pacific Rim has Arizona Copper Mines cranking up to extract low grade ores for big dollar returns, jobs are being created and the trickle down economy will benefit us all we are told. The first copper mine creation in 65 years is happening in Safford.
Southeast of Tucson the Rosemont Mine Complex, plans to open a new pit in the foothills of the Santa Rita Mountains, that plan has been controversial.
In 1902 President Theodore Roosevelt established the Santa Rita Forest Reserve and for fifty years the slopes of the Santa Rita’s were undisturbed by mining companies. Beginning in 1970 and continuing until today, one mining company after another has tried to resume mining. Attempts were made to exchange land in the Federal Forest Services surrounding their private lands to provide a footprint large enough for mining. Nearby cities, environmental and conservation groups offer strong opposition to any land exchange for the purpose of mining. The Augusta Resource Corporation, a Canadian company purchased the old Rosemont Mining District land and groups like Save the Scenic Santa Ritas now actively opposing the mine. Tucson Business News interviewed Dick Kamp, Wick Newspapers Environmental Liaison who offered some hope suggesting there could be a “Congressional land withdrawal or the possible use of federal Land and Water Conservation Funds to purchase the lands. Kamp suggested Pima County might challenge Rosemont in court.” In spite of it all, historically speaking, Congresswomen Gabby Giffords said “no one has ever stopped a copper mine”.
The Santa Rita Mountains is one of Arizona’s top Treasures. Mount Wrightson is the highest point around Tucson at an elevation of 9,453 feet. One snowy morning I remember winding up State Route 83 cresting the ridge and a snowy winter scene unfolded with a heavy frosting of snow on Mount Wrightson which towers 7,000 feet above southern Arizona. That was a magic morning and I love the memory, drinking in the raw, untouched flavor of that scene, it is inconceivable to see that land now churned up, mined for its minerals and cast aside as mine tailing. It’s pristine-in part–because it is forest land, set aside and protected-but since the 1872 Mining Law, U.S. Citizens (read-corporations) are allowed to extract the mineral wealth from any land. The Rosemont Copper Project has slowly but surely navigated through the needed permits and studies– each contentious step –one step closer to building an open pit mine on one of Arizona’s Scenic Highways. Over last few years, Tucsonans have come down on one side or the other–“that spot is not that scenic”, a local banker told me when asked where he stood on building the mine.
Meanwhile, huge crowds have turned out in the permitting process to protest what they saw as an attack on their way of life. These are the people of Elgin, Sonoita, Sahuarita and Green Valley, including Charles Huckelberry, Pima’s county manager and Ed Norris, Chairman of the Tohono O’odham people both who represent large parts of southern Arizona. To counter, Rosemont sponsored the Tour of Tucson Bike Race one year and yet another it sponsored the epic 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo Mountain Bike Race all in hopes of raising it’s “environmental” image and trying to fit into the Tucson community by spreading cash among many community support groups. Most recently Rosemont complained about the slow process (they hoped to be in construction by now) and complained the Pima County permitting process was biased and intentionally derailing their timeline and progress. They told the Feds they would appeal to Arizona’s Dept of Environmental Quality! Given ADEQ’s record of assists in Hayden for ASARCO, there is little doubt, their appeal will move forward and eventually be approved.
Augusta came to Arizona because of Rosemont’s world class copper deposit, full of molybdenum and silver. This mine promises to be 10 per cent of U.S. Copper output and the corporation was energized by Arizona’s “stable mining laws and a clear regulatory regime” Rosemont hopes to harvest a 7.7 billion pound copper source. Each year they hope to produce 221 million pounds of copper, along with another 4.7 million pounds of molybdenum and 2.4 million ounces of silver each year for over 20 years.Rosemont has a reserve of 190 million pounds of molybdenum, and 80 million ounces of silver. The project will require a $900 million capitol expenditure to start.
Rosemont issued an environmental report that uses the newest technology and the best practices of the industry, it sees no difficulties, clear sailing ahead and they plan to open a environmentally aware mining operation, the best the world has ever seen. Rosemont has no experience as miners, they have never done this before, so mistakes are always possible. One reader of their huge environmental impact study who followed each footnote to outside studies, reports their study is a smoke screen and makes little actual sense. Regardless of the environmental impact study, which the EPA called the worst they have ever reviewed–once you get past the tailing stacked in a scenic zone, the whole things boils down to water. Rosemont has identified groundwater and CAP Water as their principal water source. It is important to note the new mine lies in a drainage that feeds Tucson underground water aquifer. It feeds both the Pantano and Tanque Verde, both seasonal rivers that flow right through Tucson’s fashionable East Side, and recharges our water table. Rosemont says their best practices will not allow contamination to Tucson water supply, it’s a no brainer, they say. Google any copper mine towns in Arizona, goggle their water supply and they all are compromised. Rosemont promises they will work this mine for 50 years and they just want to be Tucson’s best buddy. The mine will employ about the same number of (348) employees they hire for a couple of “big box stores”, salaries may be better. History shows a “boom and bust” cycles with mines who have just walked away from environmental disasters or problems beyond their ability to fix. Don’t believe an open pit won’t contaminate our water, it is just a matter of when.
No one can anticipate Acts of God, Karma is always a big factor. So in 1979 when an earthen dam breached and spilled 1,100 tons of radioactive mill wastes and 90 million gallons of contaminated water into a tributary of the Little Colorado River or in 1984, when a flash flood washed tons of high grade uranium ore from Hack Canyon Mine into Kanab Creek. The Grand Canyon’s Orphan Mine still continues to contaminate creeks, it produced 4.3 million pounds of some of the purest uranium ever found in the U.S. before closing in 1969. The Orphan Mine was declared a Superfund site by the EPA. The National Park Service warns backpackers along the Tonto Trail not to use water from either drainage. Another spill 30 years ago, occurred on July 19, 1979 when an earthen tailing dam near the United Nuclear Church Rock Uranium mine collapsed, spilling 90 million gallons of liquid radioactive waste and 1100 tons of solid mill wastes into the Rio Puerco River. The spill contaminated water, land and air at least 50 miles downstream into New Mexico and Arizona. It is believed more radiation was released in that spill than at the Three Mile Island nuclear accident, making the Church Rock spill a Superfund site and the largest release of radioactive waste ever in the U.S..
Spills happen and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission acknowledges that many toxic tailing have been washed into our region’s waterways and collectively, these events have documented risks and offer harm to people’s health. Drive through any Arizona copper town which are blighted and personal property values decline dramatically. If no drinking water is found outside grocery stores or water stations good luck selling your house. The Central Arizona Project taps the Colorado River which provides 26 million people throughout the Southwest with drinking water. Last year, Lake Mead water levels stood within 50 feet of water restrictions which will hit Tucson first, hit Las Vegas hardest and be a major inconvenience to California. Rosemont Mine lies at the end of that pipeline. Green Valley groundwater levels already suffering with an annual water deficit withdraw without adding another copper mine which takes the same water that another 25,000 residents need. Population growth will easily fulfill that need, and all water use adds up and it is a finite resource. Rosemont proposes to recharge the aquifer from various sources and the newest estimates are the Rio Colorado could be dry by 2020.
“Strong demand for growth out of China, India, Brazil and Russia, with a struggling supply response”, was the all the motivation needed for Wildcat Silver Corporation, a Canadian-based mining company, to step up their Patagonia exploration. Wildcat wants to conduct extensive exploratory drilling on Forest land near Patagonia to map out a plan to construct an open-pit mine near Harshaw. Wildcat’s Hermosa project, also called the Hardshell project, involves an area six miles east of Patagonia along the Harshaw Road. The Wildcat Silver Corporation could bring in $99 million annually in profits if it gets state and federal approval. Wildcat will spend $337 million to build the project. Each year for 18 years, the mine plans to mine 4.1 million ounces of silver, about 256,000 tons of a manganese compound, about 22,200 tons of zinc and about 1,050 tons of copper from Southern Arizona.Wildcat will dig a 600-foot-deep open pit, and then mine at least 1,800 feet underground to collect minerals too deep for the pit. The mine’s water needs will dramatically draw on the aquifer pulling down 720,000 gallons of groundwater daily. Large ore trucks will dramatically change driving up and down the Harshaw Road, a narrow winding mountain road winding through Scrub Oak, Juniper Forest which has access to the old mining towns left behind the last time this good idea went bad. Patagonia folks sound scared. Few say jobs, most say goodbye to their way of life., Patagonia was once called “Arizona’s best kept secret”, the village’s residents believe what they know now, will be no longer……
The Tombstone Exploration Company holds the largest chunk, 11,863 acres, of Tombstone’s historical mining District. In March TEC received approval for State Exploration Permits for minerals, including gold, silver and copper in the eastern edge of the Tombstone, the additional permits, approved, doubles their existing holdings. Study of the mineral content of the Tombstone Mining District show a wide assortment of mineralization including silver, gold, copper, lead, and zinc minerals, along with manganese, tellurium, molybdenum, and vanadium. Although Tombstone is famous for bonanza silver deposits it is essentially a precious-metal district. Alan Brown, President of Tombstone, states, “With prices for metals at historic high levels, the time to move aggressively forward is now. We are currently planning exploration and a drill program for the Zebra property.”
Further down the Harshaw Road a large group of mines with over 80 existing claims covering 1,600 acres extends beyond Washington, Az on the north and to about a mile west and southwest of Duquesne, Az on the south. It is owned chiefly by the Duquesne Mining & Reduction Co. of Pittsburgh, PA, with local headquarters at Duquesne, and the reduction plant at Washington. Duquesne and Washington Camp were once thriving mining camps and at one point both were busy places, now they are ghost towns.
The Johnson Camp Mine in Cochise County
The Johnson Camp property is 65 miles east of Tucson in Cochise County. The Johnson Camp mine, is an open pit copper mine and production facility using solvent extraction. Johnson Camp includes two existing open pits, the Burro and Copper Chief bulk mining pits which are expected to produce 25 million pounds of copper cathodes annually over a mine life of 13 years. Recently it idled to build a new leaching facility but hopes to mine in 2012.
Wildcat Silver recently withdrew a contested request for 15 exploratory drill holes, saying they now wish to drill 176 exploratory holes on claims on public land in the Patagonia Mountains. The corporation needs to map the silver content lying underneath nine square miles of Shrub Oak Woodlands. The corporation has recently doubled it estimates from 123 million ounces to 271 million for the future Hermosa Mine which is expected to be in the top 25% of all silver mines in the world.
At its peak in the 1880s and 1890s, Harshaw’s was once considered scenic, it was surrounded by oak forests, lush pastures, and had enough pure mountain water to run the mill and work the ore. Today, Harshaw Creek is lined with sycamores, cottonwoods, and willows which are typical foliage in more arid riparian zones. While Harshaw Creek still flows, they are no longer as pure as a 100 years ago. Recent water studies according to Wikipedia have found high levels of copper and zinc, as well as high acidity in the creek. While many factors contribute to this pollution, mining and milling residue from waste dumps are the most significant source. The abandoned Endless Chain Mine, near the headwaters of Harshaw Creek, is one of the biggest contributing factors to the pollution.
Finally, a letter from the Arizona Game & Fish Department says damage will occur no matter what the federal government and the mine’s developer do to compensate for its effects.”We believe that the project will render the northern portion of the Santa Rita Mountains virtually worthless as wildlife habitat and as a functioning ecosystem, and thus also worthless for wildlife recreation,” said the letter, written by the habitat program manager for the Tucson office. “Furthermore, the project has great potential to impact wildlife and habitat off the forest.” The letter was among up to 4,000 public comments the U.S. Forest Service received on the 4,400-acre Rosemont Mine.
Are we heading down a path we might regret in the future?” YES, is the obvious answer! Is there anything we can do about it? NO, once a valid claim is made there is no legal authority to stop it. Mining law elevates mining above all other uses of federal land and contains no environmental protection.
Tucson will have a new open pit, Hwy 83 beloved for its drive in the countryside winding through the mountain pass opening up to the Santa Rita foothills, will be changed forever. This is no small price that Southern Arizona is paying, this is a crown jewel, and it will not stop here. If we don’t throw out the carpetbaggers who sell their vote to big corporations allegedly for support, this will never stop, in fact get used to it-this is just the beginning.
ROSEMONT COPPER TO RUN OUT OF CASH BY YEARS END?
These are the two sides to the Florence furor over an in town Copper Mine, which has unfolded over the past two years, producing lawsuits, criminal investigations, a scuffle between political foes, nasty campaigns, dueling environmental and economic reports, backroom legislative deals and a noxious stream of rhetoric from both sides. While town folk seems to have little say two giant corporations argue over how to divide the baby…CLICK HERE
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