A letter issued by Chairman Rambler to the following Mayors and County Supervisors:
The Honorable Mila Besich, Mayor – Town of Superior
The Honorable Mayor Jamie Ramsey, Mayor – Town of Kearny
The Honorable Sammy Gonzales, Mayor – Town of Miami
The Honorable Dean Hetrick, Mayor – Town of Winkleman
The Honorable Kevin Cavanaugh, Supervisor – Pinal County
The Honorable Woody Cline, Supervisor – Gila County
The Honorable Jeff Serdy, Supervisor – Pinal County
The Honorable Luis C. Bracomonte, Mayor – Town of Hayden
Dear Mayors and County Supervisors:
On behalf of the nearly 17,000 members of the San Carlos Apache Tribe (“Tribe”), I provide our response to your letter to President Biden, dated March 17, 2021. Sadly, you have been misinformed about the Resolution Copper (“Resolution”) and its proposed mine. Truth matters, and I would like you to come to know certain facts.
First, not one Indian Tribe supports this misguided project. Your letter falsely implies that one unidentified tribe, which you didn’t name but is clearly directed at the San Carlos Apache Tribe, “chose not to participate in the process and most likely has no intention of doing so.” For over a decade, our Tribe has steadfastly participated, submitting numerous comments and concerns to Tonto National Forest about Resolution’s mine, the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (“EIS”), the Final EIS (“FEIS”), and the Programmatic Agreement.
Second, the Tribe is steadfastly opposed to the Resolution Mine because it will destroy Chi’chil Biłdagoteel, also known as Oak Flat, an area that is sacred to our community and protected under federal religious freedom and cultural protection laws from destruction.
As each of you must be aware, Chi’chil Biłdagoteel was designated by the National Park Service as a Traditional Cultural Property in 2016 and is included on the National Register of Historic Places. The Tonto National Forest has recognized Chi’chil Biłdagoteel as having physical and spiritual integrity essential to the continuation of traditional Western Apache cultural practices, particularly to the San Carlos Apache Tribe.
Third, Tonto National Forest has failed to prepare a legal FEIS nor has it properly implemented provisions required under Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act. The Agriculture Department’s primary reason for withdrawing the FEIS was to ensure it was complying with federal law. The Department’s March 1 statement reads in part:
“The project is proposed on Oak Flat, a site sacred to numerous Federally Recognized Tribes in the Southwest…USDA has concluded that additional time is necessary to fully understand concerns raised by Tribes and the public and the project’s impacts to these important resources and ensure the agency’s compliance with federal law.”
Fourth, the TNF’s failure to prepare an acceptable Section 106 “programmatic agreement” for the destruction and documentation of hundreds of cultural sites by the Resolution Mine led the federal Advisory Council for Historic Preservation (ACHP) to terminate legally- required consultation with the TNF in February. Instead, the ACHP has forwarded a detailed list of objections and recommendations to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, who is required by statute to respond.
ACHP’s Vice Chairman Rick Gonzales stated in a March 29 letter to Secretary Vilsack that, “The historic significance of Oak Flat cannot be overstated and neither can the enormity of the adverse effects that would result to this property from the undertaking,” Vice Chairman Gonzales made it clear to Vilsack what should be done to protect Chi’chil Biłdagoteel:
“USDA should work with the Administration and Congress to take immediate steps to amend or repeal the legislation directing the transfer (of Oak Flat to Resolution) or otherwise prevent it from happening as proposed.”
Fifth, stopping the Resolution Mine is not only in the best interest of the San Carlos Apache, I strongly suggest it is also in each of your communities best interests to oppose the mine. In the long run, this mine will have devastating economic and environmental impacts on each of your communities.
I would like to point out that the Arizona State Land Department stated in its Nov. 7, 2019 submission to the Tonto National Forest that the preferred location of Resolution’s waste and tailings dump on state-owned land at Skunk Creek “will adversely impact the trust” by a minimum of $537 million. The department warned that Resolution’s heavy groundwater pumping ranging from 180,000 acre-feet to 600,000 acre-feet over the life of the mine will result “in the loss of the development of at least 3,440 acres of State Trust land” in the Superstition Vistas Planning Area.
Nearby State Trust land was recently auctioned to a developer for $156,000 an acre. The department concluded that Resolution’s “negative impact of the proposed ground water consumption sourced from Superstition Vistas Planning Area far outweighs the estimated financial benefits to the Trust resulting from other aspects of the project by a factor of 20:1.”
Then there is the issue of water – near and dear to us all. The Tribe hired James Wells, PhD, to assess what Resolution will do. Before the U.S. House Natural Resources Committee, Dr. Wells testified, and I urge you to read this carefully:
Even if one accepts Resolution’s highly optimistic estimate for water usage, the mine will use about 775,000 acre feet of water over the life of the mine, of which approximately 70% will be pumped from a large network of new extraction wells in the East Salt River Valley. 775,000 acrefeet equals 250 billion gallons of water. It is hard to visualize the immensity of this amount of water. A football field covers about one acre, so if the water Resolution plans to use was stored in a tank the dimensions of a football field, such a tank would need to be 147 miles high to accommodate all the water. The Salt River upstream of Phoenix is about 100 feet wide and 5 feet deep. For a river the size of the Salt River to hold the amount of water required by this mine, it would need to be more than 12,000 miles long, extending halfway around the world.
Arizona does not have enough water to accommodate this large new demand. Resolution’s proposed Desert Wellfield is in the Phoenix Active Management Area (AMA) and is just north of the Pinal AMA. Active Management Areas were created by the state to better manage aquifers in parts of the state that were experiencing depleted groundwater resources. In an October 2019 study of the Pinal AMA, Arizona Department of Water Resources (ADWR) identified a future unmet demand of 8.1 million acre-feet.Source: Arizona Department of Water Resources, 2019 Pinal Model and 100-Year Assured Water Supply Projection Technical Memorandum.
Tens of thousands of people in Pinal County rely on groundwater for their water supply and already, private wells are drying up.3 There is simply not enough water to go around. In the Phoenix AMA, there are many municipalities and commercial operations that rely on groundwater from the very same basin that Resolution will be pumping from, including Phoenix, Scottsdale, Tempe, Mesa, Gilbert, Chandler, Apache Junction and other towns. Arizona’s goal for the Phoenix AMA is to achieve safe yield by 2025. For a groundwater basin, “safe yield” means achieving a long-term balance between the annual amount of groundwater withdrawn and the annual amount of recharge, thus avoiding depletion of the aquifer. Even without Resolution’s pumping, the Phoenix AMA has not achieved safe yield and cannot meet the 2025 goal. In its latest study, the Arizona Department of Water Resources predicted demand to exceed supply into the foreseeable future for this basin and also predicted irreversible loss of aquifer capacity due to overpumping.Source: Arizona Department of Water Resources, 2010, Modeling Report #22, A Salt River Valley Groundwater Flow Model Application. 100-Year Predictive Scenarios Used for the Determination of Physical Availability in the Phoenix Active Management Area.
The Arizona State Land Department has determined that Resolution’s groundwater withdrawals in the East Salt River Valley would cause a loss development potential for 3,440 acres of State Trust Land in the Superstition Vistas Planning Area, representing a “minimum potential loss to the Trust of at least $536,640,000 in revenue.” The reason for these profound losses is that other entities wishing to use groundwater in the Phoenix AMA must demonstrate a 100-year Assured Water Supply in order to secure project approval. After Resolution takes all the groundwater it needs, there is less groundwater in storage for other potential users. By green-lighting this mine, the people of Arizona are embarking on an uncontrolled experiment on social priorities pitting the state’s agricultural, municipal and tribal interests against those of a multinational mining company and the mining company is winning.
As to environmental damage, Resolution Copper admits that at least 550,000-acre feet of water coming from East Salt River Valley groundwater will be required to slurry toxic waste through over 20 miles of pipelines to Skunk Camp, the area Resolution Copper seeks to dump 1.37 billion tons of toxic waste across 2,300-5,900 acres that will be higher than the 40-story Chase Tower, the tallest building in Arizona. This groundwater pumping will result in water levels being drawn down 199 feet in some areas, which, in turn, could cause the land to subside by as much as 52 inches and impact the Central Arizona Project canal, municipal and agricultural infrastructure.
Superstition Vistas is the long term economic development plan that will impact each of your communities. Construction and operation of the Resolution Mine, which will last 50 years, would undermine your local economies for centuries into the future.
The best way for your communities to “advance (y)our economic development and achieve greater economic diversity” is to break free from the boom-bust, water depleting and environmentally destructive mining industry.
Why should Arizona’s small communities sacrifice their future for a massive mining project owned by Rio Tinto and BHP, both foreign multinational corporations, that will destroy our land and use our water to export relatively low-value copper concentrate overseas?
The United States is not facing a shortage of domestically produced copper concentrate and, in fact, in 2019 the U.S. was the fifth largest exporting nation in the world shipping $2.34 billion worth of copper concentrate abroad.
Resolution’s copper concentrate production is most likely bound for export markets as the United States has only three operating copper smelters. Importantly, Resolution Copper has never publicly stated where its copper concentrate will be refined.
Arizona’s two smelters are owned and operated by competitors including Freeport- MacMoRan’s Miami smelter and Grupo Mexico’s Hayden smelter. Rio Tinto operates the third U.S. smelter in Garfield, UT, where it processes concentrate from the Bingham Canyon Mine and appears to have limited excess capacity.
Most likely, Resolution’s copper concentrate is bound for China, which is by far the world’s largest importer of copper concentrate. Rio Tinto’s single largest investor is the government of China through Chinalco Mining Corporation International. This one fact makes this entire project a strategic foreign policy concern, one that should be approached with caution.
Finally, Resolution will never develop the jobs it claims. The Pollack Report falsely reports some 3,719 jobs will be created, and some $221.9 million in payroll impacts. The Tribe hired its own economist, Tom Powers of the University of Montana. See Power Summary, as attached. Dr. Powers found that Pollack assumed that copper prices would increase every year over the life of Resolution’s mine. This has never happened in history, nor will it in the future. Once controlling for the cyclical price of copper, Dr. Power found that Resolution would create only 342 jobs in the Superior area, and only $56.2 million in payroll. By contrast, the Tribe employs over 2,500, generates over $250 million in revenues, and has over $90 million in payroll, making the Tribe the largest employer in Gila and Graham County.
In conclusion, the evidence and the truth are clear. The Resolution mine would forever destroy sacred land for several Arizona tribes in violation of federal laws, inflict massive environmental damage, export copper concentrate overseas, enrich two foreign-based multinational mining companies, seriously deplete Arizona’s ground water at a time of prolonged drought and negatively impact the value of the State Trust land by at least a half- billion dollars.
I respectfully request an opportunity to discuss with each of you, individually or together, why the proposed Resolution Mine is a bad idea for your communities and urge you to instead support the Save Oak Flat Act that is now pending in Congress.
As we say in our Apache language, Ahi’yi’é (thank you) in advance for reviewing these facts and truths. It is my hope and prayer that you reconsider your position.
SAN CARLOS APACHE TRIBE
Download the PDF of the letter, along with footnotes and the referenced reports: