You have 4 Days to Save 4,400 Acres of the Tonto National Forest
[The following guest blog is written by someone knowledgeable about the subject but who requested anonymity.]
Undeniably, copper mining is a huge part of Arizona’s economy. When mining drops, the state’s economy takes a hit, as it did in 2015. Not to mention all our modern devices, including life-saving medical equipment, that require copper to operate. But that doesn’t mean mining firms shouldn’t be held accountable to environmental standards and it certainly doesn’t mean letting a mining corporation use 4,400 acres of the Tonto National Forest for their tailings facility.
The Back Story
Part of the Tonto National Forest is sitting on one of the largest untapped reserves of copper found in recent history, discovered in 1995. Since then, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., has worked hard to hand over public land to private mining interests.
It took McCain seven years and several failed efforts, but in December 2014 McCain succeeded. He got the foreign mining company Resolution Copper the land it wanted by sticking a “land swap” amendment onto a run-of-the-mill, must-pass defense appropriations bill called the National Defense Authorization Act.
Never mind that part of the land in question, Oak Flats, was sacred Apache tribal land. It had been under federal protection since 1955 when President Dwight D. Eisenhower specifically prohibited mining in the area. The tribe has used the land ever since then for several sacred ceremonies under what’s called a multiple-use mandate.
The Department of the Interior, recognizing the historical and anthropological value of the land, renewed the mining ban in 1971.
But by slipping a rider onto a bill that had nothing to do with mining or public lands, McCain handed over sacred Native American land to a foreign company. Unsurprisingly, McCain (joined by Republican state Rep. Paul Gosar), defended the move and even had the temerity to suggest the mine would benefit the San Carlos Apache.
The San Carlos Apache disagree.
The mine is clearly going to happen. There’s little to be done about that at this point as thanks to the land swap deal it is going to occur on private land.
Currently, the issue to focus on is the proposed tailings facility, which will grow in phases and eventually take up approximately 4,400 acres of national forest.
What is a tailings facility and why do I care?
Tailings are the part of the rock that has been separated from extracted ore – basically mining waste. When mine operations are on the massive, long-term scale as Resolution’s mine is, it produces a lot of tailings and those tailings have to be put someplace.
In this case, even though Resolution already received a huge swath of public forest land in an unethical, if not illegal, manner, it now wants to put those tailings and all the buildings, roads, utilities, under- and above-ground pipes, associated structures and necessary components on public forest land.
Tailings are separated from ore and then mixed with water into a kind of slurry. That slurry is piped onto an area, usually abutting a mountain. The water from the wet slurry drips down into a lake, and that water is used for more ore extraction.
The tailings themselves result in habitat and vegetation loss; a facility of this size presents far greater issues. It will require a number of outbuildings, laying of long areas of pipe, electrical and other infrastructure installation and, ultimately, the clearing of much forest land. There is also a slight chance that contaminated tailings water could leak into the natural stream bed and pollute the water supply.
What do I do?
There is some good news here. Resolution appears to be at least somewhat open to environmental responsibility (well, within the framework of gouging the earth for copper) and also appears to listen to feedback to a degree.
In fact, right now they are actually looking into alternative locations. A strong showing of public support for non-forest land locations could have some degree of influence on where the tailings get put.
There have already been two “public scoping” meetings, or meetings at which members of the public can voice support for or opposition to proposed projects like this.
However, you can also submit comments online that will go on the record but only until April 5, 2017.
This is exactly the same thing as going to a meeting and standing at the podium and having your say.
You can also view the presentations on the proposals and ask questions as well as submit comments.