By Mark Cowling for Florence Reminder & Blade-Tribune
Florence Copper is a step closer to full-scale commercial production with state environmental regulators issuing a draft permit for public comment and scheduling a virtual public hearing for September 9th.
The company has been mining copper on a small scale for more than a year in a test phase. The company said in a statement that this testing period has confirmed “every production and environmental protection expectation” and the state’s draft permit “reflects that achievement.” The draft permit says the facility is in compliance with its existing permit.
The draft Aquifer Protection Permit will now undergo a 30-day public comment period, including a virtual public hearing. The Arizona Department of Environmental Quality will take comments until September 11th.
As a draft permit, it could be approved, modified and approved, or withdrawn entirely, based on information submitted during the public comment period. Florence Copper said the company is confident in the outcome.
“We are confident in the science and proven technology that is outlined in the Aquifer Protection Permit and look forward to moving forward into commercial operations once the state and federal permits are finalized.”
According to Florence Copper, its mineral deposit can produce 85 million pounds of copper each year for the next 25 years.
The Town of Florence commented it’s reviewing the draft permit and the underlying technical information. “That being said, this new permit would allow the installation of over 1,000 wells, including injection wells, so it is a substantial change from the Temporary APP that was limited to the small Project Test Facility located on state land,” the town said.
Florence Copper also needs federal permits to operate. In May, the town asked the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to revoke, or at least downsize, one of those permits. The town said this week that the EPA is still studying that request.
Meanwhile, Florence Copper is also awaiting a federal permit for full-scale operations, although it’s unknown when the EPA might issue it. This permit will also come with a public comment period.
The fountains, or misters, at Florence Copper, visible from Hunt Highway, are “mechanical evaporators,” the company said, spraying water to increase the evaporation rate of the holding pond.
There will be more mechanical evaporators during commercial operations. But this additional equipment won’t be visible from the road because it will be installed at a pond located farther away, the company said.
Florence Copper mines using the in-situ method, in which the mineral is dissolved underground and pumped up to the surface. A primary objection over the years has been a fear the sulfuric acid solution could escape and contaminate the aquifer.
Read more at Florence Reminder & Blade-Tribune.