Town council urges environmental regulators to kill copper mine
By Dennis Welch
The Arizona Guardian
The Florence Town Council sent a clear message Monday night to state and federal environmental regulators that they don’t want a copper mine on the outskirts of town.
The council approved a resolution (6-1) asking the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to kill the project.
The proposed mine, which is being pushed by the Canadian-based Curis Resources, still needs regulators to approve he project before drilling wells on state-owned land.
Gov. Jan Brewer had endorsed the project over the summer. Despite the backing of the state’s top elected official, the council recently said “no“ to the project.
Most of the land Curis wants sits within the town limits. The town council in November, refused to pass a series land use changes needed for Curis to start.
Company officials have said they intend to begin drilling on a small piece of state owned property as soon as state and federal environmental regulators issue permits.
Jess Knudsen, a spokesman for the small town, said a majority of council opposes the plan because they think it poses a potential environmental hazard to community.
The mining process uses a low grade acid get the precious metal out of the ground. And the mine is located next to a large water aquifer.
Knudsen said Tuesday that most of the council members are uncomfortable with that and don’t want to risk contaminating the ground water.
The council also opposes the project because they don’t think it works with the long-term plan for the area. It sits next to land that’s been zoned for commercial and residential development and the mine, according to Knudsen, would potentially kills those plans.
When asked why town leaders put together a resolution, Knudsen said,
“the town feels this was the a way to clarify its thoughts to the
public as well as the permitting agencies.”
But a spokesman for Curis, described the vote as largely meaningless. David Leibowitz, who runs a Phoenix-based public relations firm said, “yesterday’s vote was largely symbolic and had no legally binding significance.”
Then in a statement, Leibowitz said, “We at Curis believe tonight’s vote to have been premature, irresponsible and out of touch with the will of a strong majority of Florence residents and businesses.”
Calls to the EPA were not immediacy returned. But an official with ADEQ said the permitting process for Curis has been idle since September when regulators at the agency more information about the proposed mine. Mark Shaffer, the spokesman for ADEQ, said Curis has not yet responded to that request.
“Lately, Curis has been speaking publicly of its intent to further modify it’s permit with ADEQ to perhaps include mining activity on its State Land Department lease,” Shaffer said in an email. “But ADEQ has not received any communication from Curis in this regard.”
An investment company started by Phoenix Suns owner Robert Sarver celebrated the council’s decision. Sarver’s group, Southwest Investment Partners, owes a large piece of property next to the proposed mine.
They group wants to build houses and business in the area and they’ve said it would be impossible to do that as long as there was a copper mine operating in the area.
Justin Merritt, the senior manager with Southwest Value Partners, said, “as demonstrated last month with a 7-0 vote against the zoning change, Florence Town leadership and residents are firm in their opposition to this risky proposal.