Sunday, November 13, 2011

A Sweet But Cautious Victory

The crowd was anxious, ready for a fight, mostly red-shirted in opposition to the copper mine. On November 7, several hundred citizens filled the bleachers at the Florence High School gymnasium, a last-minute substitute for the smaller Town Hall, for the critical Town Council vote on whether or not to allow an overlay of the community master plan to enable copper mining on residential land adjacent to the existing master planned community of Anthem Merrill Ranch.

                          Citizens gather for Town Council vote on November 7                       

It is a controversy that has riveted the town in the past year. A large Canadian multinational corporation set up a subsidiary company called Curis after acquiring a parcel of residential property within the town limits of Florence. They knew it was zoned for homes and commercial use. But they were confident that they could arrange an overlay of the voter-approved master plan to change the zoning to allow an in-situ copper mine, drilling dangerously close to the main water supply of Anthem and other communities downstream. The prospect of having sulfuric acid and other chemicals pumped through the water table and possibly having their water supply polluted and the ambiance of the community compromised by the presence of a copper mine so close to homes spurred many citizens to action -- picketing Arizona Governor Jan Brewer in August when she came to Florence to speak in support of the mine at a Curis-sponsored dinner; attending a meeting of the Planning and Zoning Commission in October, speaking passionately against the mine in a meeting that lasted until 2 a.m. and ended with a vote against the overlay.

But the long awaited critical vote was that of the Florence Town Council.

In the months leading up to the vote, Curis has worked incessantly to win the support of citizens and has had some success, cynically playing on the hopes of those living in the depressed, older areas of downtown Florence, who desperately need jobs and dream of tax revenues for schools and parks. Curis has fed those hopes and dreams -- despite the fact that no in-situ mine has ever been so close to a residential community nor has the land or water affected by in-situ mining ever been restored to pre-mining levels. There were also relatively few jobs actually slated for the project and many of these would be highly technical  and not likely to be filled by locals. And, due to special tax breaks being sought by Curis, the tax revenue most likely would also fall short of community expectations.

Nevertheless, the promises by Curis have divided the town -- with a visible majority against the mine, but a vocal minority pleading for opportunity and, at the same time, expressing some bitterness toward the newer, generally more affluent citizens of the Anthem area of Florence. The divisiveness has been an additional stress on a town which -- like many across the U.S. -- is challenged by the recession.

In the weeks leading up to the Town Council vote, Curis, anticipating defeat, withdrew its application to use the land for mining. The game plan appeared to be that they were looking to start the mining operation on a parcel of state-owned land adjacent to the disputed parcel and planning to bring their application back to the Town Council next year, after elections had changed the composition of the Council, and a new roster of Council members might rule in their favor.

Anticipating a lawsuit if they didn't accept the withdrawal of Curis' application, the Town Council voted to allow it. However, they decided to go ahead with a vote on the overlay issue anyway. The overlay to permit the zoning change of the disputed land would be preliminary to what Curis wanted -- approval of the use of the land for mining.  The Town Council vote was 7-0 to reject an overlay that would permit mining on residentially-zoned land.

           The Town Council, here in session, voted 7-0 against mining in town                

So, for now, the victory is sweet. Passionate and well-organized citizens have prevented what could have been an environmental catastrophe for the town. And it's heartening to see that people can still have a voice against large, multinational corporations seeking billions in profits while leaving a community possibly devastated both environmentally and in terms of future growth.

But the fight isn't over. The day after the hearing, its stock plunging, Curis issued a press release to reassure nervous stockholders, stating that they were going ahead with plans to hire a Tucson-based engineering firm to start the mining project on the adjacent state land as soon as they obtain approval from ADEQ and EPA. Hearings on the later approvals will be held in Florence early next year and town officials are determined to fight to prevent such approvals -- with a lawsuit if necessary.

In the meantime, victory is somewhat bittersweet as well. Citizens who hoped the mine would bring new employment opportunities and revenues to Florence are disappointed and angry. Many of them walked out of last week's meeting en mass after their speeches in support of the mine and as citizens against the mine began to speak.

So, while enjoying the victory of the moment, those of us who have opposed the mine are also becoming increasingly aware of the need to heal some of the wounds this passionate fight has produced, to find ways to reach out to fellow citizens and to discover new possibilities for job opportunities for people who are so in need of hope. Although the copper mine has seemed to many of us a greater risk than a potential benefit to the town, our greatest challenge now may be to work together to find ways to help Florence and its citizens to grow and prosper.


  1. Hooray Kathy! I just had to share this blog to my Twitter account: nnnTheCode so others can see what your group accomplished. We talked about boycotts back in the 70's and how effective they were at effecting change. Your group proved that citizens' opinions matter. I don't understand how greedy people in corporations can do such things even against their own interests. When the water goes from pollution, even with all their money, don't they realize they will be up a creek?

  2. Kathy, I'm so glad for you that the Town Council voted against this dangerous project, but like you I feel for those who had hoped it would bring some (any) jobs at a time of recession. I do wish you well in your attempts to heal the divisions this project has caused in your community.

  3. Thanks for your comments Barbara and Perpetua.

    Perpetua, a lot of us are really concerned with the new resentments cropping up between those against the mine and those for it. Although not always determined by geographic location within the community, those for the mine do have a point with the need for jobs and revenue. And those needs have to been addressed.

    Barbara, Curis doesn't have any interest in terms of polluted water or not. They plan to extract the copper -- with billions of profit -- and then leave the area within 15 or 20 years. The people who work on the project are, by and large, not likely to be residents -- short or long-term. So they don't really care. The copper and their profits are their interests.

  4. Kathy, how heartening to see that you still can 'fight city hall'! It will, however, be difficult to heal the wounds that are caused by the disappointment of those who feel they have been denied much needed work for the town. So one hopes that the same effort will be made to heal those wounds and to look for alternative solutions in these difficult times. In the meantime, don't take your eyes of Curis -- these big companies often rear their ugly head again and again.

  5. Congratulations on this win! It's always very important to know that people can obtain justice after all the time and effort and energy spent.

  6. Thanks, Broad and Olga! This is all worth the time and energy spent.

    At the same time, you're right that solutions have to be found to bring jobs and hope to so many in this town. The concerns they have are real and need to be taken seriously.

    And, no, we're not for a minute thinking that this is the last we'll hear of Curis. They have the potential to make billions on the mine and with that kind of profit, you better believe that they're not going away anytime soon. Also, our governor is all for the mine. So the fight continues. If they were to mine on state land, it would still threaten our water supply. So that's the next round in the battle.

  7. Good for you! We've spent time here opposing a unranium mine that's already spoiled some of the water supply, and the mine owner is on an all out PR blitz, donating money to charities, having his employees volunteer at all events, etc. It really has won some folks over, surprisingly.I hope common sense wins out in your community!

  8. So true, Shelly! The PR goes into overdrive. Curis has made many, many promises: parks and soccer fields and a promise to build the infrastructure of a new home community on the site when they're done mining -- but that's all way down the road, pie in the sky, and who in the world would want to buy a home on the site of a former copper mine? Give me a break!

  9. I am delighted and surprised at the out come. Usually the little guy doesn't win. Yeah for our side.
    Arkansas Patti

  10. Kathy, I'm relieved for you to learn of the 7-0 vote to oppose Curis. But I see so clearly the need to mend fences and to reach across this widened divide to help those who welcomed the project because of the possibility--and it was apparently a slim possibility--of jobs and tax revenue.

    Finding ways to reach across that divide may prove difficult, but most things really worthwhile are difficult. Creating jobs and new small businesses is never easy, but it may be part of the reaching out.

    Hiring those without jobs to do handy work part-time may help a little. Buying quilted or knitted or crocheted goods or baked goods or jams from those who need additional funds just to get by may also be a possibility. I don't know.

    But I do know that you have a fine mind and a great respect for all those who live there. I know also that you will cogitate on this problem and come up with something to help at least one person. That's where we start--with one.


  11. ..and that will not be an easy task.

    Healing rifts in a community is notoriously hard to do, there will be bitterness for a long time to come.

  12. These kinds of things can divide a community. Even so, one must take a stand on such things.

  13. I believe you take your victories where you can get them. Then you regroup, look at the implications or the job that next needs to be done. No, you're not over, but you can at least honor the good work done so far. I hope the next steps are as successful.