Land exchange bill marked up, headed to House for vote

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By Mila Besich-Lira

The federal Southeast Arizona Land Exchange and Conservation Act of 2013 has been marked up and approved by the House Natural Resources Committee. The approval of the bill, which is critical to the Resolution Copper Project, allows it to move forward for a vote in the US House of Representatives.

One amendment to the bill was the removal of the parcels of land that the Town of Superior would have received if the exchange is approved, which included the airport and cemetery properties. Earlier this spring, the Town of Superior terminated its mutual benefits agreement and support for the land exchange, with one of their reasons being the cost to the town to purchase the lands in the exchange.

Staff representatives for Rep. Paul Gosar and Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick confirmed elected officials from the Superior town council had declined invitations to meet personally with them to discuss the town council’s concerns. The staff members said they notified the Town of Superior of the amendment prior to the hearing.

In his testimony to the committee, Gosar requested that the lands be allowed to be re-entered into the bill should the Town of Superior reverse their position before the bill goes to a vote on the floor of the House.

Superior council member Chris Tomerlin said he was not surprised by the committee’s actions. “After the Town reversed its position and terminated the mutual benefits agreement, I was surprised they did not take the lands out of the bill sooner.”

Approval of the Southeast Arizona Land Exchange and Conservation Act will authorize a land exchange at the Oak Flats Campground near Superior to allow for the Resolution Copper mine to open in exchange for protecting more than 5,000 acres of Arizona conservation lands. Company officials say the project is expected to create about 3,700 jobs and have a $61 billion economic impact on the state.

There is hope amongst supporters and Congressional staffers that the bill will be voted on in the House this summer, to then be reviewed by the Senate.

Despite the termination of support from the Town of Superior, the 2013 version of the land exchange bill has received rapid action in the House of Representatives since it was introduced in February by Kirkpatrick and Gosar.

Communities throughout the Copper Corridor have also expressed their support for the project and passed new resolutions of support for the mining project. The Towns of Miami, Kearny, Winkleman and the City of Globe have all passed such resolutions, along with the Central Arizona Governments who voted to remain in support of the project.

“This land exchange and conservation bill is the direct result of years of negotiations, an open process and a common vision amongst its supporters to bring good paying jobs to Arizona,” Gosar said. “I am very proud to have shepherded a final product that balances conservation and getting our economy growing again.”

In a statement following the vote by the committee, bill co-sponsor Kirkpatrick said she was optimistic this bill will pass the full House.

“I will continue to provide a voice for the mining communities, tribes and environmental groups in my district who have many perspectives on the Superior Mine project,” she said. “I believe we can create these good jobs while also respecting and addressing outstanding concerns.”

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