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Judge denies lawsuit to block Resolution Copper Mine in Arizona

January 15, 2021

A federal judge denied a motion that would halt the land swap that would give Rio Tinto the land it needs to develop the proposed Resolution Copper.

Members of the San Carlos Apache tribe in Arizona filed the motion in effort to stop the U.S. Forest Service from issuing an environmental review of the proposed project 70 miles east of Phoenix. The judge denied the motion until the court takes up a larger case over who legally owns land known as Oak Flat. A hearing is set for Jan. 27.

The Associated Press reported that Apache Stronghold wants to keep land it considers sacred in eastern Arizona from being turned over to Rio Tinto and its subsidiary Resolution Copper.

Tonto National Forest plans to publish a final environmental impact statement on Jan. 15 for the project east of Phoenix that would be one of the largest copper mines in the U.S. Once the review is out, the Forest Service has 60 days to transfer 980 ha (2,422 acres) to the copper company. In exchange, the Forest Service will get several parcels around Arizona.

The land swap was made possible by a last-minute provision that the late Arizona U.S. Sen. John McCain added to a must-pass defense bill in December 2014. The required environmental review has two purposes: to look at the company’s plan of operations and enable the land swap.

“The project continues to progress through the comprehensive and independent regulatory review in line with the schedule determined by the Forest Service, under the National Environmental Policy Act,” the spokesperson told Mining Engineering on Jan. 5. “The publication of the Final EIS by the U.S. Forest Service has been delayed from its original schedule of July 2020, as a result of extensive public consultation, significant interagency coordination and COVID related changes to the pace of work. It is not being ‘fast-tracked’ and Resolution Copper has not sought to apply for programs that are available to expedite projects in permitting review.”

Supporters of the project have hailed the jobs and the economic prospects of resuming mining at the site, which wouldn’t happen immediately. Resolution Copper said it still has five years of study, followed by 10 years of construction before any mining would occur.

Apache Stronghold sued the Forest Service earlier this week. The lawsuit says the agency doesn’t have the legal right to transfer the land at Oak Flat to the mining company because it belongs to Apaches under an 1852 treaty.

Separately, the group filed notice Thursday in Pinal County that ownership of the Forest Service parcel is in dispute and the subject of a court case.

 

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