After more than a decade of unsuccessful legal challenges to prevent the construction of an “in-situ” copper mine within the town boundaries, the Florence Town Council agreed to settle the matter and end its court battle.
This month, the council voted 6-0 to approve three agreements including a settlement agreement with the mine, Florence Copper, and its Vancouver-based owner, Taseko Mines Limited.
After years of protracted legal battles, there was little discussion during the vote. Only one council member spoke. Vice Mayor Michelle Cordes praised the final resolution and stated that the town will benefit economically from the $230-million project.
“For me, this has been a long thing that I’ve watched the town go through and I’m proud to sit here and say that it’s finally coming to a close, and we as a town can move forward and I hope that we have a good partnership with Florence Copper,” said Cordes, who added that the town can now enjoy benefits like other mining communities in the region. “So for us as a town, I think it’s a great thing that we’re moving forward and finally putting an end to all of this.”
It took more than $3.2 million in failed lawsuits, private attorneys’ fees and damages to come to this point.
It also took numerous steps by Florence Copper to gain the community’s trust in the safety and benefits of the project. Mine officials have met with thousands of residents over the years and funded local initiatives like the Florence High School scoreboard, veterans projects, community gardening projects, local food banks, and college scholarships.
“We are justifiably proud of what has been accomplished. And now, with the Town’s legal challenges in the rearview mirror we can focus on what we do best – making copper,” company officials said.
Two decades of preparation amidst legal struggles
The settlement agreement marks a major milestone in one of the longest, most thorough and detailed examinations of a mining project in Arizona history.
It’s been two decades in the making since Florence Copper began exploration, permitting and the opening of a small testing site, the Wellfield test facility in Florence.
Not only did it take years to adhere to all the necessary state and federal operating permits, but the company spent more than seven years in and out of litigation with the small town.
Starting in 2013, the town has tried to block the mine’s temporary permit, claiming it has no historic or legal right to the property. But lower and higher courts ruled in favor of Florence Copper on both issues.
The most recent ruling came in March, when the Arizona Court of Appeals rejected every argument made by the lawyers representing the town.
In the decision, the appellate court upheld Florence Copper’s right to mine its private property and ordered the town to pay the mining company’s $1.7 million in legal fees as well as tens of thousands of dollars in accrued interest.
Testing phase a success
Currently, the Wellfield testing operation is in its third year of the testing phase. In addition to producing one million pounds of copper, the facility has proven safe and reliable, company officials said.
Now, it’s on track to secure a key permit from the Environmental Protection Agency. That will pave the way to start preparing for construction and commercial scale operations.
In gaining the community’s approval, Florence Copper executives said that the mine has taken exhaustive steps to successfully obtain 13 state and federal permits and set the highest environmental standards to protect groundwater, soil and air quality.
‘In-situ’ copper extraction, less harmful to planet
The mine is using a process called in-situ recovery mining, which is a less invasive extraction method than traditional mining, company officials said. The process involves dissolving copper underground into a liquid and pumping it to the surface.
“It is by far the most environmentally responsible way of extracting copper from the ground,” according to the company.
Among its advantages:
• No waste or ore removal
• No blasting or large equipment associated with traditional mining
• No open holes, waste dumps, leach pads or tailings
• Minimal noise, dust and greenhouse gas impact
Mine to fuel post-pandemic jobs, economy in region
At full operation, the mine is expected to produce 85 million pounds of copper per year for 20 years. During that time, Florence Copper is estimated to create close to 500 jobs for Pinal County and generate $3.4 billion in economic activity for the state of Arizona.
Mining typically pays higher salaries than the average wage, which could help boost median incomes in the town, which are nearly $10,000 lower than the state median.
During the life of the project, the mine will create significant economic benefits for Arizona and Pinal County, according to an economic impact study by the L. William Seidman Research Institute in the W. P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University.
According to the report, Florence Copper will:
• Inject about $3.4 billion into the state economy with $2.1 billion remaining in Pinal County
• Create and support an annual average of 796 direct and indirect jobs in Arizona, with 480 in Pinal County
• Generate $1.9 billion in total personal income over the life of the project with $0.9 billion going to Pinal County workers and business owners
• Generate local and state revenues exceeding $468 million with approximately $68.5 million directly accruing to the town of Florence and $33.5 million directly accruing to Pinal County
To read more about the project, visit: Florence Copper.
This story was originally published at Chamber Business News.