The future of a controversial mine in southern Arizona now may be at the mercy of the copper market. The proposed Carlota copper mine, for four years a target of local environmental groups because of its threat to nearby Pinto Creek (HCN, 3/17/97), now has all the permits it needs to open, but its parent company, Montreal-based Cambior Inc., has fallen on hard times. This could help Friends of Pinto Creek, which in August appealed the Environmental Protection Agency's approval of the project.
"Pinto Creek contains stretches of incredibly unusual high desert riparian oasis," says Tom Sonandres, director of the Phoenix-area group. He adds that the mine would lie upstream from Roosevelt Lake, the state's largest reservoir and a major source of Phoenix's drinking water. If the mining company goes ahead with its plans, it will build one seven-story and two 10-story embankments to hold back 400 tons of sulfuric acid produced each day for 20 years. Recent mining disasters in the area, Sonandres says, make leaks a strong possibility.
Besides appealing EPA approval, Friends of Pinto Creek is also petitioning the federal government to buy out the Carlota site and is also asking the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality to put tighter regulations on the project.
Sonandres believes he has to try everything: Cambior's Robert LeValliere says the company is actively looking for a buyer for the copper mine. Copper prices have risen in the last two months, LaValliere says, and interest in the site has revived.