If New Mexico has
its way, it will slap the state's biggest mine with an
unprecedented tab. In June, state regulatory agencies presented
Phelps Dodge with a draft plan to close out the old (1910) and
large (fourth largest in the country) Chino Mine near Silver City.
It could cost the company $759 million. The proposed figure
includes measures to protect groundwater and prevent erosion, and
would require a financial bond to ensure that taxpayers won't have
to pay if the company defaults on the bill.
estimate is within reach of a $986 million-dollar plan suggested by
the local watchdog group, Gila Resources Information Project
(GRIP). "With the ore running out, we have to think about the
future, especially groundwater," says Harry Browne, executive
director of GRIP.
Both estimates are a far cry
from the company's $100 million plan. Richard Peterson, spokesman
for Phelps Dodge, says the discrepancy in the estimates is caused
by the state and GRIP's proposal for gentler waste rock slopes.
That's a bad idea, Peterson says, not only because it's costly, but
because it increases the surface area and the likelihood toxins
will get into the air and water.
proposal is simply a recommendation; it must negotiate an agreement
with Phelps Dodge in time for a year-end deadline.