NO MINER CONSIDERATION

A CANADIAN MINING COMPANY WANTS TO DIG A 300-ACRE HOLE BEHIND DONNA GOODALE'S HOUSE. ALTHOUGH MOST ALL OF THE GOVERNMENT AGENCIES INVOLVED THINK IT'S A TERRIBLE IDEA, THEY MAY NOT BE ABLE TO STOP THE EXCAVATION.

"I've never been involved in any environmental group," says Goodale. Indeed, she's been a cowgirl. Her daddy was a metallurgical engineer.

"My family works for the mines," she says. "I understand jobs. But not when they're going to do so much destruction and take the water supply. When a foreign company comes in and takes it, it's even worse."

Hayworth is right. This is a mining district, and has been for at least a hundred years; some of the diggings in the Carlota claim date to the 1800s. The existing Carlota mine shaft was still being worked in the 1940s, and the Carlota claim, some of which is private property, backs right up to the Magma mines.

In 1991, Cambior USA, the U.S. branch of a Canadian mining company, bought Westmont Mining, Inc., and in the process acquired the private property of the historic Carlota Mine. Cambior also acquired mineral rights to ore bodies in the adjacent National Forest. A year later, Cambior bought additional mineral rights from Magma, and expected to start mining in 1993.

Carlota plans to take 100 million tons of copper out of the ground over the next 20 or so years. It would stake out 3,000 acres, though only 1,400 of those acres would actually be disturbed, and a third of that disturbance would be on Carlota's private property.

There would be three pits: The largest would gouge out nearly 300 acres, a hole that would be only partly filled when the ore peters out. The ore would be crushed into gravel-size rocks, then piled onto a 300-acre heap-leach pad where it would be soaked in a sulfuric-acid solution to extract the copper.

The problem is that a river runs through it--a stream and a wash, to be precise. Pinto Creek, which empties into Roosevelt Lake, runs over the pit site. In order to mine beneath it, Carlota would have to dig a milelong diversion channel around the pit, which could change the chemistry, the speed, the temperature of the creek, and could consequently upset the riparian habitat downstream. And to hell with "Wild and Scenic" qualities.

The heap-leach pad would sit right smack in the middle of Powers Gulch, a major drainage that joins Pinto Creek downhill from the mine. Carlota would have to cut a second milelong diversion channel to reroute the Powers Gulch run-off around the heap-leach pad so that it wouldn't wash the pad's sulfuric acid into Pinto Creek and eventually into Roosevelt Lake--and the Phoenix area's water supply.

The Tonto National Forest Plan--the official U.S. Forest Service document that specifies the ideal use for each section of the forest--sets aside this land for recreation and fish and wildlife habitat.

But when it comes to mining, the Forest Plan means little or nothing, because the Forest Service does not have jurisdiction over the mineral resources below the surface. According to the 1872 Mining Law, the minerals are controlled by the Bureau of Land Management, and the Forest Service has to cooperate with potential miners.

Paul Stewart, the Forest Service employee charged with expediting the Carlota mine project, says, "If the area is open to mineral entry, if they have followed the process with the BLM and have legal claims to the minerals, if they comply with all other laws, then basically it's a done deal. It becomes their property and they can take it and mine it."

Stewart's voice brightens as he adds, "Now we have authority to affect how they do it. Not whether they do it, but how they do it."

And so the project required an Environmental Impact Statement, a two-inch-thick document paid for by Carlota, prepared by a third-party consultant and edited by the Forest Service.

Carlota needed to convince the Forest Service that the Pinto Creek diversion channel would not seriously affect waters downstream and that the leach pad and its acid would stay put in Powers Gulch, not only while the mine is operating, but long afterward.

It needed to prove that the mine would not sully the air quality of the wilderness area next door.

Furthermore, because Carlota's operation would require 750 to 1,200 gallons of water per minute for the next 20 years, the Environmental Impact Statement needed to address where that water would come from, and whether it would come from the wells of Donna Goodale and her neighbors.

Given the Forest Service's resigned acquiescence to the 1872 Mining Law, however, the EIS process of identifying problems becomes a matter of rearranging those problems so that all the bureaucracies involved can live with them. The Forest Service is generally friendly to mining interests--as it is to timber and cattle grazing--and seldom says no. The National Forest, as the signs say, is a "Land of Many Uses," some of which get preference over others.

And since the EIS documents are prepared by third-party, industry-paid consultants whose business depends on projects going through, they seldom advise against one, regardless of how damaging a project may be to the environment. Instead, an EIS presents a range of alternative plans and "mitigations," and who knows what inconvenient details get left out. State and federal environmental regulatory agencies ranging from the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality to the EPA make their comments on the draft EIS and then send them back to the Forest Service for consideration for the final document.

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