Sunday, April 02, 2017

Forest Service seeks public input on proposed copper mine at Oak Flat, sacred Native site in Arizona

This photo depicts the Arizona Mining Reform Coalition's 3D model of Rio Tinto’s proposed tailings location for their proposed copper mine at Oak Flat, Arizona. (Photo courtesy Arizona Mining Reform Coalition)

OAK FLAT, Ariz. -- The Arizona Mining Reform Coalition has asked concerned citizens to fill out an alternatives development questionnaire to help protect Oak Flat, a Native American sacred cultural site in the Tonto National Forest near Superior, Arizona.*

Rio Tinto, and BHP - Billiton have created a subsidiary called Resolution Copper that proposes to mine a rich copper vein more than 7,000 feet deep just east of Superior, Ariz., and an hour east of Phoenix, Ariz. A land exchange bill would privatize Oak Flat campground and surrounding public land despite the fact that President Eisenhower placed the campground off limits to mining in 1955. The land exchange would include Apache Leap, a cliff where more than 80 Apache warriors chose to leap to their deaths rather than surrender to the US cavalry. Oak Flat is a Native American sacred site that is critical for the religious freedom of Arizona Tribes.**

Oak Flat is a prime recreation area, especially for rock climbing and bouldering with more than 2,500 established climbing routes. Oak Flat is also a rare desert riparian area -- in Arizona, less than 10 percent of this type of habitat remains.

Scenic view from Oak Flat, a Native American sacred site, where Resolution Copper, a subsidiary of Rio Tinto and BHP - Billiton, plans to construct a large underground copper mine. (Keweenaw Now file photo)

The Tonto National Forest is beginning a process of developing alternatives for a toxic tailings dump and other components of Rio Tinto’s plans to destroy Oak Flat and other public lands. This process is required by the National Environmental Policy Act. Rio Tinto’s plans are destructive in many ways, particularly its proposed toxic waste dump.
The U.S. Forest Service has put a slideshow and questionnaire online to ask the public to help them develop alternatives to Rio Tinto’s mine plans. The questionnaire will be online until Wednesday, April 5, 2017.

The questionnaire is part of an ongoing process to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) to evaluate and disclose the environmental effects from Rio Tinto’s plan to destroy Oak Flat and an additional more than 4,400 acres of public land by creating an underground mine at Oak Flat, process copper and other minerals outside the Superior town limits, dump 1.6 billion tons of toxic waste in an unlined facility on public land between Superior and Queen Creek, pump copper concentrate 22 miles to a loading facility in San Tan, and drill more than 30 wells between Magma, Ariz., and Florence Junction to pump groundwater to supply the proposed mine.

The Forest Service wants the public to provide input as to the relative importance of a variety of environmental and social criteria that the Forest Service will use to evaluate alternative tailings facility locations.

The Arizona Mining Reform Coalition states that the questionnaire is weighed toward supporting Rio Tinto’s plans.

"The questionnaire is what it is," says Roger Featherstone, Arizona Mining Reform Coalition director. "We do not endorse it and while we applaud the Forest Service for further seeking public participation, we wish that they had done a better job of being objective. You may find some of the questions to be leading and objectionable. We are disappointed that there are not choices for 'all of the above' or 'none of the above.' You do not have to answer every question. Our hope is that the Forest Service will give as much weight to the unanswered questions as the ones that contain answers."

While you look at the questionnaire, keep in mind that Rio Tinto’s proposal would:
  •     Destroy Oak Flat by causing a 1,000-foot-deep crater 2.5 miles in diameter.
  •     Destroy 7,000 acres of public land, including Oak Flat, to build a toxic mine.
  •     Dump 1.6 billion tons of toxic tailings directly on the ground on top of public lands used for hiking, ATV’s, and other forms of recreation.
  •     Bury several springs. Preliminary drilling results in this proposed toxic dumpsite show far more shallow groundwater is present than Rio Tinto "estimated."
  •     Drill more than 30 water wells between Florence Junction, Ariz., and Magma, Ariz., to pump ground water to supply the proposed mine.
  •     Pump copper concentrate 22 miles to San Tan, Ariz., where it would be loaded onto railroad cars to be transported out of the United States for final processing.
Click here to view a video of a public workshop held by the Forest Service on March 22, 2017, in Gilbert, Arizona. The video is intended to help you understand the status of the EIS (Environmental Impact Statement) and the alternatives development process. Click here for the slideshow from the workshop and fill out the questionnaire by going to this Forest Service questionnaire page. For more information and documents click here.

*  The Arizona Mining Reform Coalition is an organization working to ensure mining is done responsibly to protect communities and the environment in Arizona. See previous Keweenaw Now articles on the Oak Flat mining project near Superior, Arizona: "Native, non-Native concerned citizens camp at Oak Flat, Ariz., opposing potential Rio Tinto/BHP/Resolution copper mine" and
"Deadline for comments on Rio Tinto mining project for Oak Flat, sacred Apache site, is TODAY, JULY 18."

** Rio Tinto is the same mining company that constructed the entrance to the Eagle Mine near Big Bay, Mich., under Eagle Rock, another sacred Native American site.

Forest Service to hold public meeting April 4, 2017, on management plan

PHOENIX, Ariz. --  Forest Service officials will meet with interested members of the public Tuesday, April 4, in Superior, Arizona, to update attendees on the Forest Service’s management plan for the Apache Leap Special Management Area.

The meeting will take place from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. in the Superior High School located at 100 Mary Drive.

During the session, Forest Service representatives will:
  •   Restate the Apache Leap Special Management Area, including legislative intent, purposes, and allowable uses
  •   Summarize topics and areas of concerns expressed by the public during pre-scoping workshops and meetings held between October 2016 and January 2017. Those meetings gave the public a chance to provide input to help forest officials craft content for the management plan
  •   Provide an overview of the draft management plan’s content; answer questions about the plan’s content
  •   Collect comments on the management plan as part of the 45-day comment period
  •   Discuss the Forest Service’s remaining, projected schedule to comply with development of the management plan by December 2017.
While the meeting will focus on the management plan, it will include time for public input as part of a 45-day public comment period continuing through May 1, 2017.

Click here for more info and links to the management plan and related documents.

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