[Editor's Note: This is part 2 of a multi-part series on the mine closure closeout plan hearing held at the Grant County Administration Center on July 24, 2019.]
By Mary Alice Murphy
Felicia Orth, hearing officer at the Mine Closure Closeout Plan hearing on July 24, 2019, gave the parameters for comments.
"The presentations were given to the audience, but for these public comments, we ask you to face me and the transcribing recorder," Orth said. "Because about 30 people have signed up to speak, we ask you to limit your comments to 2 to 3 minutes. I'll give you a sign at 2 minutes. We discourage cross-examination of commenters, but if you have a question, you may raise your hand. I may or may not call on you."
The first three speakers were sworn in—Mark Osborn, Sam Morales and Peter Wyman.
Osborn said he went to work at Chino Mine in 1976. "I've spent 43 years there. I've seen similar efforts come forward. This time, there is actually forward movement on what everyone can agree on. At what point does Gila Resources Information Project (GRIP) supersede the New Mexico Environment Department? Or if they do supersede the NMED, who needs to be relieved of their responsibilities? Why do people do it? Follow the money. I get up and go to work and I get money in the bank. GRIP is a volunteer group, but it seems to have the power to supersede NMED. Where does the money come from?"
Sam Morales said he is a lifelong resident, with his great-grandfather, his grandfather, his father and himself having worked at Chino. "I retired after 46 years. I saw from the beginning how our creek ran water that would dissolve cans and turn them into copper. Yes, there were some problems, but some self-employed people gathered copper and sold it. Phelps Dodge began the clean up, and then Freeport cleaned it up. I've been all over the world. This company takes care of the environment. They are responsible. They have done water treatment in Colorado. Now there are blue-ribbon fishing and hunting areas. People love what they're doing. They are not paying for me to be here. I'm afraid we will hamstring Freeport to early closure, because GRIP wants to make it so onerous for funding. It will take money out of the operating fund and have to shut down. Don't hamstring the company. They have our best interests at heart. Yes, they are there to make money. The sticking point of this plan seems to be that GRIP doesn't want Freeport to be the third party for financial assurance. GRIP doesn't represent me. As long as Freeport continues to be cleaning up, don't make them close up early."
Peter Wyman said he was pleasantly surprised at the level of cooperation, especially after a letter from Siwik, calling those who disagree with GRIP anti-environment. "Ms. Siwik, because I don't agree with everything GRIP says, please don't call me anti-environment. Back in February, a comment by Ms. Siwik in the Daily Press said it was unfortunate that peer tactics by Freeport and the Chamber of Commerce prevented a civil discussion on SB 220 and HB 255. A May letter to Fernando Martinez of the Mining and Minerals Division had 16 bullet points and is signed by Ms. Siwik. One of them states that it has been reported in the Silver City Daily Press that 500-year to 1000-year storm events are taking place at least twice a year, using flood data. The letter requests the data be taken into account for the closure plan. The quote is attributed to Alex Brown, town manager. When I contacted Mr. Brown, he said: 'I don't recall ever talking about 500-year or 1000-year floods happening twice a year and that would be almost impossible to plan for. Fifty- to 100-year floods are a more reasonable expectation, and I would stand by that assessment.' Apparently, GRIP didn't bother to fact check, then requested that incorrect data from an incorrect quote be taken into consideration for the plan. It calls into question the accuracy of any other statements made in this letter. Then Ms. Siwik repeated the same flooding issue in an editorial yesterday in the Daily Press. Some might call those fear tactics."
Andy Payne, Glenn Griffin and Janet Wallet-Ortiz were sworn in.
"I am a concerned citizen about what I hope happens through this process," Payne said. "We have great natural resources. We have copper, and the mining brings good jobs. We also have a large clean aquifer. Both need to be protected. I hope the Mining and Mineral Division puts in strong protections. They current regulations say the plan should be updated every five years. That regulation has been ignored because there are no teeth in it. If there are no teeth, it can be ignored. I encourage you to take into account four things: 1) that the treated water be of high quality; 2) the effects of climate change, which could have a profound effect. Severe weather events are occurring more often; 3) update the plan every five years; and 4) safest and most secure financial assurance. I know that the third-party guarantee is not it."
Griffin said: "It wasn't that long ago that ASARCO, in 2005, filed for bankruptcy. Read the book, 'Copper Stain,' which tells about the legacy ASARCO left in El Paso. I believe that Freeport can do the same, leaving cadmium, chromium and lead to migrate from the tailings into the groundwater due to the low pH of rain water. At the February Trump rally at a County Commission meeting, with 300 miners, Tom Shelley told us nothing could be done with the 8,000 acres of tailings. Well, Shelley, it ain't so. Cobre Mine, 20 years ago, put in a plastic liner, leachate piping and two feet of dirt dumped onto it. Future tailings should be dumped on top of a liner and the leachate piped to an electro-winning plant. There's money there. Rich mining companies have a history of leaving communities barefoot, pregnant and toxically polluted. This same corporation at Morenci paid a $6.8 million fine for polluting. The company must provide sufficient finances for reclamation when the mine closes or defaults. Freeport parent company guaranteeing the money means two counties worth of ranchland for sale at the same time would force a lower price to a fire sale price that won't clean up Chino Mines. The $280 million saved by not paying their fair share of property taxes for 28 years goes to pay Freeport top executives $13,781,040 a year. Why should Grant County taxpayers bail out Freeport when they are worth $18 billion, with $270 million in income from our Grant County mines? Please mandate that Freeport pay to reclaim Chino Mine at closeout."
"I am a retired professor," Wallet-Ortiz said, "and a 33-year resident of Grant County. I want to publicly and profusely thank GRIP for working to protect us. I'm sure everyone here wants clean water and a healthy environment for ourselves, our children and grandchildren, as well as our friends who deserve the good jobs at Freeport. However, what we are facing is a giant corporation whose net income was $270 million in 2018 alone, without citing their worldwide assets. Freeport needs to take responsibility for the toxic waste used to achieve these fantastic profits. You have given the people power. We have three key demands: 1) update the closure closeout plan to adjust for climate change that is upon us now, if you read the news and don't live under a rock, and it will get worse. Updates can design water conveyances according to the need; 2) establish a sizeable trust fund to assure water quality is protected in perpetuity. A trust fund established now would grow interest and keep it safe for future generations; and 3) Freeport knows this is its business and they must know that a third-party parent guarantee can crumble and turn to dust if the business goes south. So, we want adequate cash put up so as not to leave us swimming in toxic remains."
Three more were sworn in: Frances Gonzales, Kate Brown and Mary Walker.
Gonzales spoke first. "I live in Bayard. My father was a 45-year employee of the mines and did benefit a lot from the mine. But because of a lack of protection, he ended up dying of metastatic lung cancer. It is very important that the third-party guarantee not be on our state. New Mexico is not one of the wealthiest states. We have a lot of poverty. Not having a guarantee would leave New Mexico taxpayers left holding the bag and would put our state into ruin. We are at the point of seeing the benefits from our legislators and savings of other governors and now being available to give pay raises. We would end up suffering for the next generation of children. They will also end up with water issues in Whitewater Creek. For example, it was supposed to be cleaned up in 1983 under Kennecott. It is being cleaned up now, but after how many generations? I was a kid that used to play in it."
She said the other thing "we need to look at is as a crisis between us and them. What is important is to look at reclamation. The mines, community folks, the bottom line is based on clean water and where our dirt is safe. We had to have cleanups of yards in Hurley, with the dirt removed and we had to get clean dirt. We seem to forget about that. We do see Freeport is doing these things. I'm glad we're collaborating at the same table. Instead of being divisive, we need to respect each other and be community stewards together."
Brown said she is a 40-year resident of Grant County and lives in the Mimbres Valley. "I think I made this comment either in 1998 or 2008. But first of all, it is really heartwarming and reassuring to see collaboration. Reclamation means jobs. The financial assurance means these jobs will be there for residents."
Walker had had to briefly leave the room. She spoke later in the meeting.
A break was called.
The next article will begin with the next four people commenting.