The Imerys perlite mining plant manager Tom Hawk and a corporate representative from Imerys, Todd Whitacre, hosted a public meeting on Friday evening to address the closure of Forest Road 4 south of Superior.
In June, Imerys closed access to Forest Road Four when the company began developing a plan to conduct ore sampling in the Old Chicago pit and the New Chicago Pit. Both of these pits have been inactive for over a decade, but a new type of drywall being manufactured may require the grade of perlite that may be present in the inactive pits. In order to determine of the grade is sufficient the mining company must test ore. If the ore can be used the company may go into production. However it could be up to a year or more before the mining pits are prepared for active mining. Imerys owns the land and patented mining claims where both pits are located – they are not located on Forest Service land.
Imerys corporate headquarters are located in Paris, France and there are multiple operations in America and across the world.
For many years, this area, despite being private property, has been an important recreation area for residents of Superior and visitors to the area. This year, the Forest Service created a southern access hiking trail into Arnett Canyon near the pit, with the closure of the Forest Road 4, access to this trail head is now closed off. One of the pits has been the location of an unofficial shooting range and the pits do cross some riparian habitats near the creek.
Forest Road 4 is a major four wheel drive/ATV route connecting Superior to the Box Canyon area near Florence. It also provides one of the main access routes to deliver water and maintenance supplies to the Arizona Trail near Superior and also is a main route that hunters use to access various hunting camps. The Town of Superior is concerned that the closure of this road will pose a health and safety issue and have long term negative affects on the local economy.
Local residents Hank Gutierrez and James Schenck were vocal during the meeting, expressing concern that the officials from Imerys did not have any real answers or solutions to the problem. There were no officials from the Tonto National Forest present at the meeting. There was discussion during the meeting that Forest Road 4 may pre-date statehood, which would mean that it is a historic route, thus access should not be restricted. Superior Town Manager explained that one of the entities concerned about the closure would need to file a lawsuit and retain an attorney to fight the restricted access.
Officials from Imerys, did not have any immediate answers but suggested that a meeting with Tonto National Forest be held to discuss potential options to re-route Forest Road 4 away from their mining operations. Recreation users in the area are concerned that permitting a new road on the Forest Service lands could take up to three years or more which would limit their access to the recreational areas.
Anyone who is concerned about the closure should contact Todd Whitacre at firstname.lastname@example.org or via phone at this office in Nevada 775-404-6271. Whitacre shared his contact information with those in attendance at the meeting.