Florence Copper

Florence Copper Project off Hunt Highway in Florence is pictured under construction last year.

FLORENCE — The town has been ordered to compensate the winning parties by a total of $283,000 in legal fees and other expenses related to Florence's unsuccessful challenge of Florence Copper’s temporary state permit.

The town of Florence and developers Pulte Homes and Southwest Value Partners brought a case years ago disputing the Arizona Department of Environment Quality’s authority to grant a temporary aquifer protection permit to Florence Copper. Florence Copper is now using that permit, along with other state and federal approvals, to conduct a test phase of the in-situ mining process in which copper is leached from the ground.

Florence Copper claimed fees and expenses of more than $81,000 for expert witnesses and other costs in Maricopa County Superior Court and before the state Water Quality Appeals Board, but asked for just $10,000, the maximum recovery under state law. The town argued in response that Florence Copper was not a party, but an “intervenor” in the case, and was therefore ineligible to recover costs.

In an April 2 ruling, Maricopa Superior Court Judge Patricia A. Starr disagreed and said Florence Copper was entitled to be reimbursed $10,000.

Florence Copper further sought to recover attorney fees paid to two law firms. The judge determined a reasonable award was $100,000 for the services of one firm and $35,000 for the other.

ADEQ sought to recover attorney fees of $184,946.40. The town argued this request was untimely, ADEQ never previously requested attorney fees, the requested amount is unreasonable and other reasons. The judge disagreed and granted the ADEQ a “reasonable” award of $138,000.

Florence Copper had no immediate comment on the ruling and the town did not immediately respond to messages requesting comment.

The town and its co-plaintiffs sought a preliminary injunction in 2012 to bar the state from issuing the temporary permit. The ADEQ issued the permit a week later.

The plaintiffs argued that the ADEQ did not have the authority to issue the permit. A Maricopa County Superior Court judge dismissed the challenge on April 26, 2013, and a state appeals court upheld the decision later that year.

Florence Copper may also seek to recover its legal fees and expenses in defending another case brought by the town challenging the company’s continuing or “grandfathered” rights to mine its property off Hunt Highway.

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