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From Dust to ... Golf?

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But he testified that he did not feel pressured by then-DEQ director Ed Fox or Phelps Dodge to hasten the permitting process.

The mining company simply did not know what to do with Ed Pond.
Internally, Phelps Dodge weighed the idea of using Governor Fife Symington to pressure Fox to "expedite" the permits.

The plan may have been aborted. Symington's office did not return repeated phone calls, but Ed Fox does not recall Symington ever bringing up the project.

Fox recalls that Dave Kimball, a Phelps Dodge attorney, once approached him about the matter. This, recalls Fox, was not unusual. Kimball, a registered lobbyist, kept a presence at DEQ.

Kimball later wrote the director, expressing appreciation for Fox's "willingness to personally look into" the Clarkdale permits, which had to be processed in a "timely" fashion.

Phelps Dodge also considered meeting with Fox, his staff and an unnamed "state official." However, an internal document says, under such a scheme, DEQ staffers working on the permit might "react negatively because of director's involvement prior to normal review."

Fox says he never intervened in the Verde Valley Ranch permitting because he trusted that Pond was doing a good job.

Phelps Dodge seemed to sense it would be foolish to further press Fox to hurry up the permitting. To do so might cause "political sabotage and embarrassment," because the application, as Pond had pointed out, was incomplete. An internal Phelps Dodge memo itself says the application was "deficient and not defensible due to lack of pertinent hydrological and geological information."

On the advice of his DEQ attorney, Pond would not comment.
But he testified at the hearing that he felt "indirect political pressure" not from Fox, or the governor, but from Senator John McCain, who took an unusual interest in the Verde Valley Ranch project. What Pond didn't know was that a Phelps Dodge employee political action committee had contributed generously to McCain's campaign fund.

McCain did not respond to phone calls seeking comment for this article.

Ed Pond did take his time.
He did not approve the permits until September 1995, some four years after he had taken over the case.

One permit, authorizing the new sewage-treatment facility, went to Clarkdale. The second permit, jointly issued to Clarkdale and Phelps Dodge, dealt with "closure" of the tailings, essentially approving Verde Valley Ranch.

The permits call for what amounts to hydrologic tweaking to "contain" the tailings and the polluted groundwater that is seeping into the Verde River.

They essentially write off the uppermost, polluted aquifer, sealing it into the bathtub, the Verde Formation, right along with the tailings.

The theory is that a deeper aquifer, which supplies residents with drinking water, is "hydrologically isolated" from the upper polluted aquifer and the tailings above it.

To keep the shallow, dirty aquifer from seeping into the Verde River, DEQ will require Phelps Dodge to "de-water" or pump the shallow aquifer near the river.

It will also demand that an impermeable slurry wall be built between Peck's Lake, which has also been polluted by the tailings, and the river.

The tailings pile itself will be capped by giant plastic sheets. Drains will be constructed atop the plastic. Three feet of soil will cover the drains. The golf course and natural vegetation will be planted on the soil.

The greens for the golf course, according to the permits, will be watered by Clarkdale's sewage effluent.

Any water that reaches the bottom of the soil is to be collected by the drains and transported to a plastic-lined pond on Verde Valley Ranch. That pond also will contain Clarkdale's effluent and the water that's been pumped from the uppermost aquifer.

All of this will go back on the golf course.
Water from the river and the deeper drinking-water aquifer are to be carefully monitored to see if further pollution occurs.

It's a technically creative solution.
But environmentalists raised important questions about that solution at the hearing.

They contend that five years of study still have not sufficiently defined the "bathtub" that is supposed to separate the tailings and the polluted aquifer from the rest of the environment.

For instance, a monitoring well drilled by Phelps Dodge two years ago into the lower, drinking-water aquifer was recently found tocontain the same contaminants as the tailings.

This means one of two things, environmentalists say.
Either the lower drinking-water aquifer has become polluted, or DEQ and Phelps Dodge for two years misunderstood the geology of the "bathtub" in this particular area.

There is another possibility. The well's casings could have been poorly constructed, permitting dirty water to leak through the well into the lower groundwater reserve.

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Terry Greene