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Judge: Florence Copper Mine Permit Should be Rescinded

MIN Florence Mine

A state hearing officer on Wednesday recommended rescinding a permit given to a company to extract copper from the ground underneath Florence using chemicals. Photo credit: Arizona Capitol Times

By Howard Fischer for Arizona Capitol Times

In a 155-page ruling, Administrative Law Judge Diane Mihalsky said the state Department of Environmental Quality did not place sufficient conditions on Curis Resources to ensure that its operations did not impact water quality. That includes a finding that the monitoring wells DEQ wants the company to install are too far to provide “meaningful monitoring of pollutants” that may escape from the site.

And Mihalsky faulted DEQ for creating an area where pollution would be allowed which is nearly 100 times the size of the area where the chemicals actually will be placed. She said that defeats the purpose of the law which is to ensure that the company “ensure the greatest discharge reduction achievable” in operating the facility.

Mihalsky’s report is not the last word. Instead, her recommendation goes to the state Water Quality Appeals Board.

But in concluding DEQ acted contrary to its own rules and laws, Mihalsky puts the company in the position of having to show that her conclusions are in error. And that provides some hope for foes of the mine, including the local water company, area developers and the city itself.

There was no immediate response from DEQ, which issued the permit Mihalsky said is flawed.

Curis obtained the property in 2010. It has 1,182 acres of land it owns outright along with 160 acres of state mineral leases.

It plans to pump a solution of sulfuric acid into the ground. The process, known as in-situ mining, essentially involves the acid dissolving the underground copper. The solution then is pumped back to the surface, where the copper is extracted and then the acid is reused.

DEQ denied the company’s original request for a commercial-scale permit.

But the agency last year did issue a temporary permit for limited operations, good for one year with a possible one-year extension. That gave the company permission to start the process on an experimental basis.

The appeal to Mihalsky put all work on hold. And now she has recommended the permit be voided.

Read more at Arizona Capitol Times