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Controversial Florence Mine Project on Hold — For Now

A June 2011 photo shows a sample of bedrock that includes chrysocolla, tenorite and cuprite minerals taken from the test-field extraction site outside Florence on the Curis Resources Inc. Florence Copper Project. Photo credit: Charlie Leight/The Arizona Republic

A June 2011 photo shows a sample of bedrock that includes chrysocolla, tenorite and cuprite minerals taken from the test-field extraction site outside Florence on the Curis Resources Inc. Florence Copper Project. Photo credit: Charlie Leight/The Arizona Republic

By Craig Harris for The Arizona Republic

Opponents of a proposed underground copper mine in Florence have temporarily stalled the controversial project, but backers say they expect to overcome environmental concerns and create hundreds of jobs in the area.

The latest fight in the nearly five-year battle took place before the Arizona Water Quality Appeals Board, which last week sent a temporary mine-testing production permit back to the state Department of Environmental Quality for further review.

The permit would have allowed Florence Copper Inc. to inject large quantities of sulfuric acid into the ground, which opponents fear would pollute a nearby aquifer.

The company, formerly Curis Resources, believed it had the upper hand after the ADEQ in July 2013 issued a temporary permit to operate a production-test facility to gather data needed to support a full-scale operation.

Opponents appealed that decision to an administrative law judge, who found the ADEQ made mistakes in the process. The Water Quality Appeals Board mostly agreed with the judge, and sent the case back to ADEQ.

Florence Copper plans to build its underground copper mine off Hunt Highway. To get the mineral, the company would inject a sulfuric-acid solution hundreds of feet underground, leaching copper from the soil and rock below. The copper-laden solution would be pumped to the surface for processing.

Opponents have claimed the project will contaminate aquifers and the drinking water in Florence. Canadian-based Taseko Mines Ltd. owns Florence Copper and says its mining process is safe and will bring needed tax dollars to the area.

Since 2010, the two sides have battled each other at public hearings and through various state agencies that must sign off on the project.

Read more at The Arizona Republic