On Friday, Aug. 9, 2019 the Tonto National Forest announced that the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for the Resolution Copper Mining Project was released to the public for review. This is a significant milestone for our community, Resolution Copper, our state, and region. On Dec. 19, 2014, Congress approved the Southeast Arizona Land Exchange and Conservation Act in conjunction with the National Defense Authorization Act. The National Defense Authorization Act is passed annually by Congress to fund military operations, the NDA is a must-pass bill each year. The Southeast Arizona Land Exchange and Conservation Act was included in this must-pass bill, the approval allows for the Oak Flats campground to be exchanged for other private lands that are needed for conservation across the state of Arizona once the Environmental Impact Statement is approved.
The final approval (Record of Decision) and actual exchange of the lands are contingent upon the Resolution Copper Mining Project completing a full Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) which many may understand to be called the “NEPA” or National Environmental Protection Act.
This is a long-awaited milestone for the Resolution Copper project as the EIS process has studied and analyzed many important impacts resulting from the construction and future active mining operations of the Resolution Copper mine. The Draft EIS (DEIS) lists all of the studied impacts of the mine and also provides proposed mitigation plans for those impacts. The impacts include Recreation, Water, Socio-economic, Wildlife, Traffic, as well as others. All of these impacts are vitally important to Superior today, as well as to the long-term future of our Town and the entire Copper Corridor region.
The Town of Superior staff and Town Council are studying the DEIS. It is critically important to make sure that mitigations for these impacts are in the defined plan and that they are defined, adopted and well funded in the final Record of Decision. An important point to make is that the DEIS clearly states that the United States Forest Service (USFS) does not have the option to reject the mining activity, but that it can require that the impacts resulting from the construction and active operations of the mine are mitigated.
I am encouraging our residents to participate in the upcoming public hearings and consider reading at a minimum the Executive Summary of the Draft EIS. This is the last and final opportunity to comment on the proposed Resolution Copper mine development. Comments will be received through Nov. 7, 2019. You can access the Draft EIS online and also make comments using this link: https://www.resolutionmineeis.us
The EIS is a 1,400-page document, with a large number of attached studies and plans. This is a very detailed document that identifies many important issues. At this time, the Town Staff has identified the following items as critical issues that will require comments from the residents of our community, region, and state in order to protect our community from any major adverse effects.
WATER: Data in the DEIS indicates that there will be a possible 18% drop in the amount of water flowing through Queen Creek, a drop of the water in wells in town limits by 10 to 30 feet, and additional impacts to a number of springs and seeps around the community over the next 56 years. The USFS only disclosed these impacts in March, and Resolution Copper Mining has committed to making sure that any decrease in water will be replaced. The Town is working directly with Resolution Copper and our Federal and State elected officials to continue to ensure that this commitment is placed into any final Record of Decision. The Town of Superior has been studying the 1999 Queen Creek Riparian Creek Restoration Plan, and there are many projects within that plan that could be funded through the mitigations that would prevent the water loss and help to restore the Queen Creek watershed.
TAILINGS: The suggested alternate for the location of the tailings is a site called Skunk Camp. This site is in the Dripping Springs area, which is located directly behind the Ray Pit to the east. This alternative was selected for various reasons. Earlier recommendations had the tailings sites close to Superior and Queen Valley. The new recommended Skunk Camp location is not in the view-shed of Superior or Queen Valley. After years of discussion and concern, this new location is a positive mitigation that will be a much safer alternative to the originally proposed options near Superior.
INFRASTRUCTURE: The DEIS has indicated that the development and operations of the Resolution Copper mine will add significant stress to Main Street and Magma Avenue. The DEIS does not list any mitigations to this projected problem. The Town is also concerned that there have been no indications of a plan to develop or create workforce or affordable housing, despite the plan projecting that 25% of Resolution Copper Mine’s workforce will reside in Superior.
SOCIOECONOMICS: The Town of Superior will see little of the total tax benefits generated by the mining operation. The DEIS with the increased cost of police, fire, street maintenance and other factors, these projected tax benefits are unlikely to meet the increased costs. The Town and RCM have entered into several agreements to offset this likely deficit, but the agreements are on four or five year cycles, and continued support is not guaranteed. There are no socioeconomic mitigations listed in the document.
RECREATION: The development of the Resolution Copper Mine will create a loss of recreation areas. The mitigations for the loss of the recreational areas such as the Oak Flats Campground include
up to 55 miles of new trails and also upgrades to 55 miles of existing trails. This also would include a new campground at the Castleberry Ranch located near the Superior Municipal Airport. The mitigation plan does not include any funding assurances from RCM, and actually states that local non-profits will fund these mitigations. This is unsatisfactory as the Town needs to have real guarantees of funding to have any significant value.
Further, these proposed mitigations for recreation do not address a critical issue that is of great concern to the Town: The Town recently learned that Bronco Creek Mining has submitted a drilling permit to the Tonto National Forest to drill on the very same lands that these recreation mitigations are planned for.
The Bronco Creek drilling permit for exploration has been funded by Rio Tinto, which is a 55% owner in the Resolution Copper mining project for the same area. These recreational mitigations and the Bronco Creek exploration will have to be addressed before these proposed mitigations in the DEIS can have any significant value to recreation development for Superior and to cover the loss of the Oak Flat Campground.
As the Mayor of Superior, I am committed to ensuring that our residents are fully aware of the critical issues we will be facing. Based on the initial review of the DEIS, most of these impacts are not guaranteed by financial assurances. These impacts need to be pre-funded or bonded, and the Town will be advocating for these mitigations to be written into the Record of Decision. In recent years the Town has been successful in developing agreements with the Resolution Copper that do provide significant improvements to our community. The goal at hand is to ensure that our short and long term concerns are mitigated and funded to ensure that Superior remains a safe, healthy and prosperous community.
The Superior Town Council will be discussing these findings of the DEIS at the Sept. 12, 2019 meeting. I encourage all residents to attend the public hearing on Tuesday, Sept. 10, 2019, at the Superior Junior-Senior High School Multi-Purpose Room. The hearing is scheduled to begin at 5 p.m. The council also will be preparing the official comments to be sent to the National Forest Service from the Town of Superior.
We will continue to provide updates and information via our website, media releases, and Facebook page.
It is an honor to serve our community during this transformational time, and only by working together with a unity of purpose, Superior will be able to have our requested mitigations included in the final Record of Decision.
Together, We are Superior!
Tonto National Forest staff is hosting five public meetings between Sept. 10 and Oct. 8. Maps and other materials will be available and forest staff will be on hand to answer questions. Dates and locations are:
• Sept. 10, 2019, 5 to 8:30 p.m., Superior Jr./Sr. High School Cafeteria, 1500 Panther Dr., Superior, AZ
• Sept. 12, 2019, 5 to 8:30 p.m., Central Arizona College, 3736 E. Bella Vista Road, San Tan Valley, AZ
• Sept. 17, 2019, 5 to 8:30 p.m., Ray Elementary School Cafeteria, 701 AZ-177, Kearny, AZ
• Sept. 19, 2019, 5 to 8:30 p.m., High Desert Middle School Auditorium, 4000 High Desert Dr., Globe, AZ
• Oct. 8, 2019, 5 to 8:30 p.m., Queen Valley Community Center, 1464 E. Queen Valley Dr., Queen Valley, AZ