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Oak Flat land exchange Op-Ed

The following editorial written by Roy Chavez and Roger Featherstone ran in the April 20, 2010 edition of the Arizona Republic.


The Sonoran Institute was on target in its critique of the proposed Rosemont mine south of Tucson (4/3/10 Arizona Republic), however, the author drew the wrong conclusion about Rio Tinto’s proposal to mine under Oak Flat Campground east of Superior.  In fact it would be impossible to do the same thorough analysis of the Rio Tinto project as is being done on the Rosemont mine proposal, since Rio Tinto has yet to even write a mining plan.  Rio Tinto is trying to evade the rules, which every other mining company wanting to use public lands must follow, and has instead gone straight to the U.S. Congress for a special sweetheart land exchange deal.


Without a mining plan it is difficult to examine all of the pros and cons of this land exchange.  However, what we do know is enough to oppose it:

The block cave mining method that Rio Tinto wants to use is guaranteed to destroy the surface.  Rio Tinto admits that a mine at Oak Flat would create a hole the size of Meteor Crater near Winslow.  Block cave mining is much more ecologically destructive than the traditional method of mining used in Superior. 

The effects of a block cave mine at Oak Flat on regional water supplies would be profound.  This mine would disrupt the fragile riparian habitat that makes Oak Flat an ecological and recreation haven.  It could also disrupt water supplies for Superior, Globe, Miami, and the eastern portion of the San Carlos Apache Reservation as well as for the Phoenix metropolitan area, as this mine would change the hydrology of the area.

 Oak Flat and the surrounding area (Gaan Canyon, Apache Leap, Queen Creek) are critical to several Native American Tribes.  Both the Arizona Inter-Tribal Council and the National Congress of American Indians (which represents all Native Tribes in the U.S.) oppose the land exchange and a mine at Oak Flat.  The land exchange would violate the U.S. government’s Trust and Treaty responsibilities to protect religious freedom.

 A block cave mine at Oak Flat would hurt any chance for the Town of Superior to develop a recreation and ecotourism economic base.  With the resulting re-route of Highway 60 around Superior and the destruction of climbing and other recreational opportunities at Oak Flat, Superior would be locked into the boom and bust cycle of mining that is currently hindering the town’s prosperity.  And until a Mining plan is written, any talk of jobs is highly speculative.

 Rio Tinto’s track record is troubling.  Earlier this year Rio Tinto locked out over 500 union workers at its borax mine in California in an effort to bust the union and four company executives recently pled guilty to bribery in China. 

 The proposed land exchange is a taxpayer rip-off that would leave us cleaning up after yet another foreign mining company that has taken our natural riches and fled.

 There is another way.  Instead of destroying more of Arizona’s natural heritage for the sake of huge foreign mining companies, let’s stop the land exchange, make Rio Tinto write a mining plan like the one done for Rosemont and let’s give it the scrutiny it deserves instead of just taking the company’s word for it.

 Roy C. Chavez is a lifelong resident and former mayor of Superior, and a spokesperson for the Concerned Citizens and Retired Miners Coalition. Roger Featherstone is director of the Arizona Mining Reform Coalition.

Dr. Radut | story