CASA GRANDE — A battle over ownership of the old Sacaton Mine is developing between two companies — one that wants to return the property to mining and another that wants to create hydropower.
In October, Elim Mining announced that it was working with the ASARCO Multi-State Environmental Custodial Trust and the state to purchase and restart the mine under a new name, Cactus Mine.
On Jan. 19, Ramm Power Group announced that it had filed a notice of intent and a pre-application with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to use the nearly 1,000-foot-deep mine as a pumped water storage hydropower facility.
Both companies claim they have the right to use the mine.
Elim claims it signed a purchase agreement with the ASARCO trust on July 25, 2019, and that agreement has been approved by the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Elim also signed a prospective purchase agreement with ADEQ that states the company plans to restart production at the mine. It is working to complete the purchase of the property by the end of March.
ADEQ did not confirm the prospective purchase agreement before press time. However, the agency’s website does state that a purchase agreement was executed in September and a prospective purchaser agreement was approved by ADEQ in December.
But Ramm Power claims it started the licensing process with FERC in March of 2018 and filed for a preliminary permit for its project with FERC on July 19, 2019.
FERC did not respond for a comment before press time, but the agency’s website does list a docket item for the project that includes a progress letter for the last six months and a pre-application document for the project.
That permit gives the company the right to claim the property through eminent domain, said Steve Wood, the president and director of Ramm Power Group.
“Ramm Power Group has eminent domain over the Sacaton Mine site,” Wood wrote in an email. “Elim’s claims to the property are secondary to ours.”
Ramm has notified Elim of the project and its right to take the property through eminent domain, he said.
Elim doesn’t own the property yet, he said. It has put a down payment on the property but it is still trying to collect funds to purchase the property. Ramm, on the other hand, has all the funds it needs to build its plant, he said.
“Make no mistake, we are going to build this project,” Wood said. “We will get the permit. There’s nothing to prevent us from getting the permit.”
Elim Mining has a different opinion.
“Ramm does not own or control the Sacaton property, and Elim will take appropriate actions with FERC and elsewhere to protect its interest in the Sacaton Property,” stated Elim spokesman Adam Hawkins in a press release. “The permit does not authorize Ramm to engage in any ‘on the ground’ activity or grant any rights of access to the property.”
The permit is just a way of holding Ramm’s place in the line of projects FERC is considering while the company is collecting the information needed to file a license application, Hawkins stated. If Ramm is granted a license, which is not guaranteed and is a lengthy process, it could take the property through eminent domain for its project, he said.
“However, at this time, Ramm has no legal interest in either the land or water necessary to advance its project,” Hawkins said.
Hawkins said Elim is willing to work with other companies, including Ramm, about developing renewable energy projects on the property that are compatible with its plans for the mine.
The mine, with the name of a nearby mountain range, is off Maricopa-Casa Grande Highway and not on the Gila River Indian Community. ASARCO operated the mine between April 1974 and March of 1984, according to Arizona Geological Survey records. In 1985, ASARCO considered turning the pit mine into a landfill. The company dropped the idea in 1987 after strong public opposition to the project.
In 2009, the state of Arizona reached a $20 million settlement with ASARCO to clean up the site.