The U.S. National Park Service declared the Oak Flat campgrounds near Superior, AZ as a historic place that is to be included in the National Registry of Historic Places, a move that congressman Paul Gosar (AZ, R) said amounts to an effort to sabotage the proposed Resolution Copper project.
Jeremy Barnum, a spokesman for the park service said the park service was required to determine its eligibility as part of an environmental review process associated with a land exchange that awarded 971 ha (2,400) acres of federal land to Resolution Copper Mining.
The designation would not stop mining in the area, Barnum said.
The Oak Flat campground was first given federal protection from development by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1955. Conservationists covet Oak Flat and nearby Devil’s Canyon as a unique high-desert habitat while the San Carlos Apache tribe believes it's where life originated on Earth.
In 2014, Resolution Copper took steps to obtain the land when Sen. John McCain attached a provision to a defense bill that transferred the lands, including Oak Flat, to the company in exchange for 5,300 acres of land owned by Resolution Copper, the Arizona Daily Sun reported.
Resolution Copper plans to use block cave mining to extract the copper ore which will eventually lead to a 3.2-km (2-mile) wide, 304 m (1,000-ft) deep crater that could swallow the Oak Flat campground.
Gosar said in a written statement that Oak Flat is not a sacred site and believes the mine would benefit surrounding communities with jobs.
He accused the Obama administration of pandering to extremist environmental groups rather than following the law and listening to the American public.
Environmental advocates argue the area has long had significant cultural, historical and ecological significance.
“We’ve objected to the land swap from the beginning because we think that it is worthy of that designation and Oak Flat should continue to be protected,” said Sandy Bahr, who lobbies for the Sierra Club’s Arizona chapter. “People still object to it being sacrificed to the short-term profits of foreign mining companies.”
Resolution Copper Mining, a subsidiary of British-Australian Rio Tinto and Australian BHP Billiton, says the mine will bring in the equivalent of roughly a $1 billion in revenue annually for about 60 years. The company plans to tap into the ore using block-cave mining, a technique that involves digging beneath the ore body and setting off explosions to break apart the ore.
The mining company will continue to engage with the local community and is confident in the project’s future development, said Bill Tanner, spokesman for Resolution Copper.