In July 2007 this news report appeared:

U.S. Sens. Jon Kyl and John McCain have introduced legislation for the third year in a row that would allow a new copper mine to be developed over a huge mineral deposit outside Superior, Arizona. The mine project proposed by Resolution Copper Mining, the Arizona joint subsidiary of Britain's Rio Tinto and Australia's BHP Billiton, needs the legislation to pass to acquire federal land over the underground mine site.

The bill introduced Tuesday by the two Arizona Republicans would give Resolution Copper about 3,025 acres three miles east of Superior in exchange for seven parcels totaling 4,583 acres of environmentally sensitive land throughout Arizona.

The mine is opposed by some residents of Superior, about 60 miles east of Phoenix, and area Indian tribes who believe the project in Pinal County would damage a scenic area that has strong connections with Apache history. The project is being backed by the Superior Town Council, Gov. Janet Napolitano and environmental and recreation groups such as the Arizona Audubon Society, Nature Conservancy and Arizona Game and Fish Department.

The bill includes a 695-acre easement to protect the spectacular Apache Leap cliffs above Superior, and provides stronger protection for the cliffs than in previous versions, Kyl said. But members of the San Carlos Apache Tribe believe the project would desecrate the area, a sacred place in their history. According to Apache history, warriors in the 19th century leaped off the cliffs to their deaths rather than surrendering to the U.S. Cavalry.

Some area residents also are concerned that the mining method planned by Resolution would cause cave-ins and damage the landscape.

The website for Resolution Copper provides extensive data about all aspects of the project. Not the least is the living history program which I recommend you read.

There is a lot of technical data on the site; for example, here is what they say about water management in the desert surrounding the mine:

In order to prepare for shaft sinking and further exploration of the mining site, it is first necessary to remove the water which has accumulated in the existing mine shaft since previous mining operations ceased. The shaft currently holds nearly two billion gallons of water, and we anticipate the extraction will take about two years. This water seeped into the mine through natural processes such as rain infiltration. A water treatment facility is required to prepare the water for discharge once it is pumped to the surface. We’ve finished constructing a processing facility that will clean the extracted water, and we expect to begin the dewatering process in 2008.

A larger question is: where will the water go once it’s been extracted and treated? We’re happy to report that we have signed an agreement with the New Magma Irrigation and Drainage District (NMIDD) for beneficial agricultural use of the extracted water. (We will also pursue alternative end-uses, since NMIDD cannot take advantage of all water we expect to extract during the cooler winter months.) Here’s how the process will work: Our company will treat the water so it can be used for agricultural purposes. We plan to build a pipeline to carry the water from our facility to the New Magma Irrigation and Drainage District near the town of Queen Creek. There it will be combined with Central Arizona Project water and used to irrigate cotton, alfalfa and Bermuda rye grass.

The proposed mining method is Block Caving. In general terms block cave mining is characterized by caving and extraction from an underground draw point of a massive volume of rock. The withdrawal of the rock potentially translates into the formation of a surface depression (a subsidence zone) whose morphology depends on the characteristics of the mining, the rock mass, and the topography of the ground surface.

The long-term impact of the mine, then is an area of subsidence over the block caving cone. This area is in essence not accessible thereafter—it will be a moonscape of loose dry rock. That is why any “sustainable” development will have to be achieved by other means. The 2007 Sustainable Development Report is a fine document that provides no indication of how the caved-mine area will be dealt with in the long-term. The report does contain an enigmatic statement that waste will be dealt with at places already impacted by tailings and waste. Does that mean filling up the old pits in the surrounding neighborhood?

The neighborhood does seem to be affected by the death of past mining. Here is part of a report from April 2008 sporting a picture of a British Royal visiting the site (recall the Rio Tinto connection.)

There are a little more than 3,000 people in the 1.9 square miles that make up Superior. The town, about an hour east of the Valley, was once a booming mining community, boasting a bustling town center and claiming to have visitors like Doc Holliday and Wyatt Earp.

Today it is falling apart - abandoned houses with sinking roofs, rusted fences, peeling paint and crumbling stone mark most neighborhoods. The bulk of businesses on Main Street and everywhere else are boarded up, empty reminders of when silver and copper fueled the economic success of the town that once had twice its current population.

But 7,000 feet underground just northeast of Superior lies a glint of hope for the residents of this community nestled in the mountains. A study from Arizona economist Elliott Pollack released last week indicates the mining operation could boost the state economy by $46.4 billion over the life of the project - about the impact of one and a half Super Bowls a year for 66 years. The report, commissioned by lobbyists who represent Resolution Copper, also indicates Superior and neighboring cities combined could see an influx of property, sales, construction and other tax revenue of about $136 million annually.

"It confirms in our minds that this is a strong project for Arizona," said David Salisbury, president and CEO of Resolution Copper. "It will add economic and social stability to Superior."

Stability is something that's slipped by Superior in the past few decades. In 1982, about 1,200 people lost their jobs after the Magma Mine closed. The mine reopened a few years later only to close again and cut 200 jobs in 1996.


All of which leaves us wondering who John McCain would act as president. Apart from meeting with British Royalty sponsored by Rio Tinto, he could use his good graces as president to bring back historic mining to Arizona. Or would he have to put this issue “in trust” and remain resolutely aloof?