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What is the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime incident at Carlota? Are the Cambior folks careless and accident-prone, or is mining simply an industry prone to environmental disaster?

Donna Goodale pulls her big truck up to the original Carlota Mine, a 1940s-vintage headworks and shaft, a reminder of the days when copper was mined by gouging out underground ore veins.

Such antiquated methods were inefficient. Nowadays, mining companies get at the copper ore by removing the entire landscape, and if they leave a gaping scar when they're done, well, that's the cost of progress. Copper has to come from somewhere.

Turquoise-green rocks on the ground bear testament to the rich copper ore that lies below the surface; even the stones in the chimney and fireplace of the long-burned-down miner's shack shine blue with copper oxide.

Goodale came here often as a child.
"My father was a prospector," she says. "This was my playground."
She studies the red dusty earth, the juniper trees, as if trying to hold them in her mind. They'll be nothing but memory soon.

The Carlota Mine's Environmental Impact Statement has not yet been finalized; the Forest Service expects to have a final document by the end of the year. There will be meetings among the participating regulatory agencies this month. Every problem will be "mitigated."

Everyone expects the mine to go through.

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Michael Kiefer