Copper mine rouses opposition

  • Pinto Creek near the proposed Carlota Mine

    Donna Goodale
  Flanked by massive cottonwoods and sycamores, Pinto Creek winds through the rugged mountains of central Arizona's Tonto National Forest. Its narrow valley is a haven for an endangered hedgehog cactus, it contains scores of archaeological sites and it may soon become an open-pit copper mine. That prospect has roused local protest and national criticism, yet the odds of stopping the Canadian-owned mine are slim.

Carlota Copper Co. plans to divert a section of the creek into a channel, then dredge the stream bed and surrounding riparian area to a depth of 600 feet. It would then fill Powers Gulch, an adjacent valley, with the resulting millions of tons of waste rock.

Some nearby residents have been pursuing legal routes to delay construction of the mine. Citizens for the Preservation of Powers Gulch and Pinto Creek has urged the Army Corps of Engineers to deny Carlota's dredge-and-fill permit on the basis that the mine is "not in the public interest." "That's not done very often," concedes Deborah Ham, attorney for the group. Yet if Pinto Creek is not one of the nation's spectacles, she says, the desert refuge is "symbolic of places that are worth preserving everywhere."

Pinto Creek has gained allies, among them, former Arizona Sen. Barry Goldwater, who said, "Pinto Creek is worth the strongest protection possible." The national environmental group American Rivers named it one of the country's 10 most endangered rivers last year, and the federal Environmental Protection Agency gave the copper mine its lowest possible rating. Forest Service officials, however, say their hands are tied by the 1872 Mining Law: They can't forbid the new mine as long as it complies with existing regulations. The forest's final environmental impact statement is expected this month.

For more information contact Citizens for the Preservation of Powers Gulch and Pinto Creek, P.O. Box 2694, Globe, AZ 85502 (520/425-4834); or

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