From Dust to ... Golf?

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Auduboners are more concerned over wetlands destruction and public access to the wetlands, which the federal government deems public "waters of the United States."

What all the dissidents have in common is a visceral distrust of the mining company.

"Phelps Dodge is dodging their responsibility to remediate," says Sedona resident Kendall Demollicq, of the Verde Valley chapter of the Sierra Club--one of several groups that lodged the administrative protest at the appeals board last month.

The coalition claimed in thehearing that the recently issued DEQ permits are illegal because, among other things, a Clarkdale town representative lied to the state about the town's financial status.

The coalition also contends the state failed to force Phelps Dodge to publicly disclose its environmental enforcement history, even though state law requires such a disclosure.

Phelps Dodge's attorney Bob Boatman claimed at the hearing that the environmentalists were disputing legal fine points that really didn't have much to do with the critical issue--environmental protection. He vigorously defended Verde Valley Ranch as the "Cadillac solution" to a complex set of problems.

"The environment, Phelps Dodge and Clarkdale all come out ahead," he said. "Everybody wins with this plan. ... The appellants misapply the law. They focus onthe trivial and irrelevant. ... And what they are trying to do is set unrealistic and unfeasible standards that no one could meet."

The town fathers of Clarkdale are insulted by what they see as elitist attitudes of outsiders--like the Sierra Club--stirring up local discontent.

"The Sierra Club and Audubon Society seem to have the feeling that people in Clarkdale are not very smart. Therefore, these Sedona-ites have the responsibility to protect us from our folly," says outgoing mayor Wiley, a retired chemical engineer who believes the project is environmentally sound.

"His resentment is unjustified," says Anita MacFarlane, a Sedona Auduboner who has long opposed the project. The river and wildlife, she says, belong to everyone, not just Clarkdale town fathers and Phelps Dodge.

Of course, Wiley is also upset that MacFarlane and others have managed to stall the project, postponing the construction of Phelps Dodge's gift to the town--the $5 million sewage-treatment plant.

For its part, Phelps Dodge is paying for more than just a sewage plant. By having Clarkdale co-apply for the aquifer-protection permits, the company was able to thrust the little town into the forefront of the environmental fray. With Clarkdale taking the lead, the mining company would net "political gain with EPA and State because of Phelps Dodge's willingness to cooperate in solving the problem," a Phelps Dodge internal document says.

And, actually, using Clarkdale fits with the company's historical political strategy of behind-the-scenes lobbying.

For instance, when the permitting process with DEQ seemed to take too long, it was Clarkdale, not Phelps Dodge, that complained. Ed Fox, who was director ofDEQ during most of the five years it tookfor the permits to be issued, recalls hedidn't hear "squat" from Phelps Dodge, but Clarkdale was "upset and unhappy" because the permitting seemed to be taking too long.

In 1993, the Mineral Policy Center, a Washington, D.C.-based environmental-advocacy and clearinghouse group that frequently lobbies against mining activities, concluded that Phelps Dodge, the largest copper producer in the world, was an "environmental laggard" that often used its considerable political influence to pressure local regulatory agencies.

At the time the Washington group issued its report, Phelps Dodge was mulling over how, exactly, to hasten the permitting process for Verde Valley Ranch.

The problem was Ed Pond, the DEQ project manager who eventually issued the two aquifer-protection permits to Clarkdale and Phelps Dodge in 1995.

Upon taking over Verde Valley Ranch permitting from a co-worker in 1991, Pond sent Phelps Dodge a 24-page letter requesting volumes of additional environmental data.

Pond, a middle-aged man who still gathers his hair in a long, scraggly ponytail, is a renegade bureaucrat. There's something about the way he plants his short, heavyset body on the earth that betrays his stubborn nature.

Pond has never been afraid of taking on large mining companies. He was eventually transferred out of the mining unit of DEQ's aquifer-protection-permitting section in 1995 after a different mining company complained that he was difficult to work with and had an "antimine" attitude, accusations he vehemently denied.

Pond did not deny at the hearing that DEQ project managers "get in trouble with management if they agree with the other side that you're being unreasonable. You know, you can be sanctioned within the agency.

"On the outside, you have the industry folks who want to see this [aquifer-protection] law changed or gutted, and they make attempts via the Legislature to change or weaken or gut the law in its entirety."

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Terry Greene