The majority of the property currently proposed for the Florence Copper Mine Project by Curis was annexed into the Town of Florence in 2003 and ultimately incorporated into the Merrill Ranch Master Planned Community for predominately residential purposes with some commercial/employment mixed used development opportunities. The approved Merrill Ranch Master Planned Community, a proposed 5,802 acre mixed-use master planned development, has been in effect for many years before Curis purchased their 1,182 acres. Another recent landowner, Southwest Value Partners, purchased approximately 4,500 acres within the Merrill Ranch Master Planned Community in 2010 based on the approved General Plan. Pulte Homes also purchased a portion in 2005 of the Merrill Ranch Master Planned Community and are currently developing Anthem at Merrill Ranch on approximately 3,192 acres, which was also based on the approved General Plan. There is no mistake that the proposed Florence Copper Mine Project land purchased in 2010 by Curis is clearly within the Merrill Ranch Planned Unit Development with specific land use and zoning designations.
As a result, since the Town’s General Plan and the Merrill Ranch Master Planned Community plan no longer match with Curis’ proposed Florence Copper Mine Project, they now need to change the Town’s General Plan and zoning designation to accomodate the proposed Florence Copper Mine Project. With that being said, Curis is proposing to change the land use and zoning designations for their property from Master Planned Community to Employment/Light Industrial drastically changing the Town’s approved General Plan. This is a significant and detrimental change to the approved Merill Ranch Master Planned Community, which will have a negative effect on it, the Town, and Pulte’s Anthem at Merrill Ranch development. In fact, there have been numerous changes that have occurred in this area over time as well as a better knowledge base of the in-situ mining’s process and its ramifications that make it unacceptable to have this type of mining operation in the middle of a growing reverse mortgage kdc community. Indicative to this point is when Curis recently request a transfer of the Underground Injection Control permit from BHP Copper. The United States Environmental Protection Agency decided to revoke the existing permit and is now requiring Curis to apply for a new Underground Injection Control permit. Curis’ permitting efforts will now involve coordination between the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality and the United States Environmental Protection Agency to avoid duplication and allow for greater input and scrutiny.
The Project site has been the subject of mining exploration for decades, but deposits were never sufficient to make commercial mining feasible. BHP Copper obtained permits to conduct a pilot in-situ mining project at this site in the 1990s, long before Florence annexed this area and plans for residential and commercial development were developed. BHP could not make a go at this site either, however, so it sat unused for many years before Curis obtained the property. In the years that have intervened, there have still been no commercially successful mines of this type in North America. But many uranium mines using similar methods have contaminated groundwater, soil, and air across the western United States.
The time for mining in this area has passed. Mining is no longer compatible with substantial residential and commercial development arising from Florence’s growth. A mine is not an appropriate neighbor for schools, houses, churches, and retail centers. Vital water resources can be put to more productive and economical uses that will not threaten the quality of that water for future generations. The Environmental Protection Agency has acknowledged these changes, rejecting Curis’ recent request for transfer of an underground injection well permit due to “the absence of any permitted activity at the site over the last ten years,” “residential development in the area,” and “the construction of several nearby drinking water production wells since the permit was issued in 1997.”