By Chase Kamp
In response what the company saw as a downtick in public support for its proposed copper mine project, Resolution Copper hosted an open house on Apr. 30, 2013 to address questions from Superior residents.
Project director Andrew Taplin told the gathering of more than 100 residents that while the project has enjoyed numerous technical advancements in studying the ore body, the legislative aspects of the projects have lagged behind.
He identified five “deal-breakers” for the copper mine, ones he said needed to show promise quickly. Advancing the permitting process, nailing down a site for waste rock tailings and generating confidence at the head office of company-owner Rio Tinto were on the list. Rio Tinto reduced the project budget from $200 million to $50 million late last year.
Also on the list was successful passage of the federal land exchange bill that would give the project the necessary lands for operation, as well as enough public confidence needed for what Taplin called the “social license to operate.”
In pursuit of the latter, Resolution officials answered a litany of questions from audience members. Among the topics brought by residents was the number of jobs that could be available to Superior residents, the disposal of water and waste rock tailings and possible plans for a substitute site for the Oak Flat campground.
Most prominent was discussion of the National Environmental Policy Act studies, or NEPA, necessary for the project to reach federal compliance.
Vicky Peacey, senior manager of environmental and external affairs for Resolution, said despite arguments by mine opponents, the company will not side-step federal regulations. “There is no way we can configure the project to avoid federal lands,” she said, “so we have to do a federal NEPA that covers the entire project and the environmental impacts of all the features.”
One resident argued that if the federal land exchange passed, Resolution’s newly-acquired land would now be private and would not be subject to federal environmental oversight.
Peacey asserted the company will be obligated to perform NEPA studies, be it before or after a land exchange is passed. “It’s a public process and the entire mine will be assessed,” she said.
The company was compelled to host an open house after seeing the results of a phone survey of Superior residents. “There’s been some erosion in how we’ve communicated and we need to do better,” said Bruce Richardson, company communications manager, “but this project still enjoys really strong support from this region.”