People living near Oak Flat have a lot to lose – or gain, depending upon how you look at it – as a result of the government giveaway of the southernmost section of the Tonto National Forest. This includes residents of Superior, a small town just a few miles down the road from the sacred Apache site.
To gain? Jobs or preservation of a rare desert perpetual spring. To lose? Jobs or preservation of a rare desert perpetual spring. For a small town that’s long been wrapped around the bust-or-boom influence of the mining trade, it’s easy to understand how the promises of employment can turn the heads of local residents who would benefit from an influx in job opportunities.
Which is why a phrase in the December minutes of the Superior Town Council is so noteworthy.
Those who follow Oak Flat hear that the promise of jobs held out by Resolution Copper is very compelling to some Superior locals. Resolution Copper pledges thousands of good jobs, but skeptics say the nature of the block cave mining technique slated for the project suggest otherwise, noting that the jobs generated by this practice will rely heavily on employees with advanced degrees.
The Superior Town Council December Minutes reveal what seems to be a switcheroo. Mayor Valenzuela’s staff report explained that a recent meeting with Resolution Copper top execs showed, “. . . a filter plant was going to be built by Resolution near the San Tan valley. Mayor Valenzuela was surprised, he thought all plants would be built here to help with employment.”
This event brings to mind the old adage, “It’s better to beg for forgiveness than to ask for permission.” What will residents of Superior be left with if they don’t get the good deal they’re hoping for and later Resolution Copper begs forgiveness, once they have the profits in their pockets? How willingly will they forgive when every time the wind blows, carcinogenic tailings are aired over the community? And what will it matter once the permanent damage is done?
How about considering building an electronics recycling plant in Superior, rather than blasting a new mine? Copper recycling is just a matter of time anyway, Earth does not grow new copper and supplies are limited. With the enormous amount of electronics Americans now purchase – and then must later discard – there’s a future in copper recycling. Not to mention that investing in this kind of sustainable business is compatible with other job-growing industries, such as tourism.
The Arizona Office of Tourism’s Research and Statistics Department reports that in 2014, the state hosted 40.7 million overnight visitors, up 4.1% YOY, resulting in $20.9 billion in direct spending, up 5.4% YOY. Tourism is on the rise. The rare riparian desert ecosystem and established climbing resources at Oak Flat present an attractive setting for the tourist industry that is compatible with the preservation of Oak Flat and its clean water source.
The decision of which side to support is a big one, with permanent consequences. The Superior Town Council has a lot to grapple with in deciding whether they pledge their support to the intentions and plans of a foreign mining giant, hoping they are not later on the receiving end of those begging forgiveness; or they opt to pursue greener pastures.