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Mining fuels economies on both sides of the border

Victoria Harker

Arizona’s historic mining industry is among the most abundant on the planet, producing copper, lead and zinc that make the world go round. 

Freeport-McMoran, ASARCO, Newmont, Rio Tinto, Taseko, Hudbay, South32, these are the industry giants investing billions of dollars in state-of-the-art operations here. As the demand for metals rises along with the world’s population, Arizona is positioned to reap the economic benefits. 

Arizona’s border state, Sonora, Mexico, is a large producer of silver, putting it in a similar position.

Tariff-free trade is essential to their continued viability, Harry “Red” Conger, president and chief operating officer-Americas for Freeport-McMoRan, Inc., told a large crowd of business leaders and policy makers at the 60th Anniversary Summit of the Arizona-Mexico Commission (AMC) in Phoenix. 

Under the free trade agreement, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), Arizona and Sonora have developed extensive supply chains across both borders that provide jobs and revenue for communities, he said. 

“I’m a native son of Arizona, but I think of myself as a regional native. I’ve always been blind to the border,” said Conger, whose father was a mining engineer at a copper mine near Marana.  “There’s a lot that goes on in mining in this part of the world that moves back and forth across the border.” 

Supply chains support local economies

Conger was a speaker at the AMC Summit along with Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey and Sonora Gov. Claudia Pavlovich who spoke about “The Future of North American Trade.” Their primary message was to urge ratification of a new open trade agreement, the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), that will replace the outdated NAFTA and bring it into the modern, digital age.

CEOs, trade officials and policymakers came together at the event to strategize and collaborate on cross border initiatives to promote economic development in 16 areas including mining. AMC’s mission is to improve the economic prosperity and quality of life for residents through public-private collaborations in advocacy, trade, networking and information. 

Preserving free and open trade between the three countries is a primary goal of the commission this year. Expansion and modernization of border crossings to increase international commerce  is another. 

Freeport-McMoran, which generates $2.4 billion in direct and indirect revenues to the state and 22,700 direct and indirect jobs, benefits from NAFTA, and currently is exploring mining opportunities in both states. 

“We’re very optimistic that we’ll have more mining operations in the region and we’d like for some of those to be on the other side of the border,” Conger said. “We are an international entity. We are a free trader and very much support everyone’s efforts for a new trade agreement.” 

New mining projects in Arizona

Freeport is one of 27 major mines in Arizona that account for a $4.87 billion impact on the Arizona economy and 51,800 direct and indirect jobs, according to the Arizona Commerce Authority. 

A number of new mining operations have announced new and planned projects including: 

Hermosa Project South32, an Australian Mining Company, purchased the $2.3 billion project to develop a state-of-the-art underground mine in the Patagonia Mountains near Nogales. It will mine lead, zinc, and silver. Once completed, the mine is expected to impact over 3,000 people in the state of Sonora and Arizona through employment opportunities, economic stimulus, and production.

Florence Copper Mine Parent company Taseko Mines commenced operations this year at its new in-situ copper recovery facility in Florence. The commercial life of the project is expected to be 25 years. Arizona would receive an economic uplift of $3.4 billion with $2.1 billion remaining in Pinal County.

ASARCO completed a $229-million modernization of the historic Hayden copper smelter. Owned by Grupo Mexico, the mine has restarted operations. The smelter employs 560 and contributes about $122 million annually to the economy.

Freeport McMoRan Inc. is completing a $250 million modernization of equipment at the historic Miami smelter near Globe. The Miami mining operation employs 760 and has an annual economic impact of about $267 million.

Resolution Copper has spent $40 million cleaning up a hundred-year old mining site before it starts construction on a mine that will be the largest in North America. Owners Rio TInto and BHP have invested over $2 billion in developing the project since 2004 and are entering the final permit stage. 

Excelsior Mining Corp. announced that it has been issued the first new copper mine permit in Arizona in over a decade. The federal Environmental Protection Agency issued an operating permit for in-situ recovery mining for the Gunnison Copper Project between Benson and Willcox.

Cochise County Supervisors deny appeal of Whetstone business permit

BISBEE — They hoped for a better outcome, but some folks from Whetstone went away disappointed after the Cochise County Board of Supervisors denied an appeal for a home fabrication business Tuesday morning.

Back in May, Jon Montez was granted a special use permit to construct a 1,600-square foot building for his business, Counter Intelligence, in Whetstone’s Ranchos Cochise on his 4.55 acres on N. Busick Ranch Rd. by the county Planning and Zoning Commission, though there was some opposition to the permit.

He plans to make countertops in the building from sheets and blocks of countertop material.

The planner’s report explained the process Montez would use. “Once the ‘raw’ material is at the location he will then router, sand, shape and glue the countertops together. This is done using tools and materials found in many residential shops.”

“He has provided a detailed explanation of the process and photos. There are no hazardous chemicals used beyond what is found in a typical residence and shop. The process is conducted inside the shop building. The interior will be insulated, and doors and windows kept closed to help mitigate noise. In addition, the building is set back at least 60 feet from the property line which will also help to reduce any noise impacts.”

There were letters of support, one of which was from Edward and Bonnie Kammeyer, which stated: “This would be better than the goat farm in the neighborhood. Jon and Simara Montez are outstanding Christian citizens.”

The commissioners unanimously voted to approve the special use permit.

Terrance Hogan, who lives in the area near the proposed place of business, filed the appeal to have the special use permit overturned by the Supervisors. His reasoning was, in part, the county staff misrepresented the character of Ranchos Cochise and how the permit would affect the comprehensive plan and 2020 Envision program.

He said it would cause personal harm from noise and health risks due to what he called a “toxic environment.”

“The approval does irreparable harm to residents of Ranchos Cochise, Cochise County as a whole, the state of Arizona and (me) personally,” Hogan said.

He told Supervisors Peggy Judd, Ann English and Tom Borer the Corian countertop material was hazardous and cutting the material would produce harmful dust.

“I feel bamboozled,” he noted. “I wouldn’t have bought the land if I knew the residential area would be open to businesses. You’re taking peace and quiet from me and my right to enjoy my property.”

Several local residents agreed, and county planner Robert Kirschner told the supervisors Planning and Zoning had received 69 letters in opposition of the special use permit.

Ann Aust was one of them. She showed the supervisors a parcel map of the subdivision and said the business does not fit in a residential area.

Resident Charles Everett said the supervisors should honor the covenants of the subdivision even though there is no homeowner’s association, let alone a board of directors to whom to take complaints.

Judd said she searched online to see if there were any health risks associated with cutting the sheets. She said she only found a recommendation to wear a respiratory mask, like one worn by painters or carpenters. There was no mention of any dangers of the dust from fabricating countertops.

In Montez’s time to rebut, he assured the supervisors and the residents the business would not have a major impact on the neighborhood. He would take extra steps to ensure the noise would not be heard off his property and planned to have a dust collector system, so it did not leave the building.

“No one will be exposed to clouds of dust,” he emphasized.

As for any traffic concerns, he said the only travel would be in his vehicle when he would leave to pickup materials and when he delivered them. There would no extraneous traffic.

English pointed out the law does permit businesses like this in rural areas. She felt the health question had been resolved, and concerns of noise were addressed by Montez.

“This is an emotional issue,” English said. “No one wants their neighborhood to change.”

Peggy Judd voted in favor of the appeal.