Legal Battles Continue Between Town Of Florence, Copper Mining Company

The Town of Florence called on its residents in December to pressure a copper mining company operating within its limits to resolve its decadelong dispute with the Town.

“We believe people should be asking Florence Copper exactly what it wants from the Town to end the litigation,” Assistant Town Manager Benjamin Bitter said in a statement, which also outlined a settlement offer the Town made to the mining company over the summer.

The Town’s statement was an apparent response to a Nov. 27 post on Florence Copper’s Facebook page attributed to Stacy Gramazio, manager of communications and public affairs. It acknowledged the Town making the offer and some initial discussions about it.

“Regrettably, since then there has been no expression of interest by the Town to come to a resolution of our disputes. It seems clear they have no intention of stopping their legal attacks against us,” Gramazio said. She did not specify when or why the talks ended.

On Dec. 2, the Town filed an amended opening brief in its appeal of a June 2019 decision by the Maricopa County Superior Court, which ruled Florence Copper has the right to mine about 1,200 acres it owns within the town limits. The court ordered the Town to pay $1.7 million in legal fees to the company.

Florence Copper has a lawsuit at the trial level on counterclaims against the Town government.

Bitter described the settlement offer as “substantially more beneficial” to the copper company than the lower court ruling. In addition to the Town paying Florence Copper’s legal fees and recognizing its right to mine the land, he said provisions include:
Both sides dropping all litigation.

Relief from specific development requirements that Florence Copper did not meet under a development agreement.

Bitter added, “If, either through settlement or litigation, Florence Copper is permitted to mine the property, the Town will always remain deeply concerned about protecting the quality and usability of its water resources for its citizens.”

In 2009, Florence Copper acquired 1,200 acres of the planned Merrill Ranch community out of foreclosure, after its previous owner asked the Town to extinguish all mining rights on the land in a 2007 development agreement.

The company contended the Town didn’t have the authority to erase the mining rights and began work to tap into what it says is a deposit of 2.5 billion pounds of copper. The Town sued Florence Copper in 2013, arguing the mining rights no longer exist and the company’s activity violates its residential zoning Florence Copper, which was purchased by Taseko Mines Ltd. in 2014, has obtained federal and state permits to proceed with in-situ mining, in which a solution composed of water and a small amount of sulfuric acid is injected into bedrock to dissolve copper deposits. It says the process poses no threat to water quality because the bedrock is below the groundwater that supplies the Town.

A test facility for Phase 1 of the mine began in December 2018. Gramazio said in her Facebook post the company is “pleased” with its performance, in which the main test well is now producing copper in solution at an annualized rate of approximately 700,000 pounds per year.

The company applied for permits to begin full-scale mining less than a year after the test phase began, which the Town says violates its promise it would test for at least two years to prove the safety and sustainability of its operations.