FLORENCE — Florence Copper has a historic right to mine on its property off Hunt Highway, a right it did not lose in the town of Florence’s 2007 zoning ordinance, a Maricopa County Superior Court judge has ruled.

The ruling comes just as the Florence Copper Project has begun its small-scale test of the in-situ mining process.

“The court finds that evidence supporting FCI’s (Florence Copper’s) position clearly outweighs the evidence supporting the town’s position,” Judge Roger E. Brodman wrote in his 21-page Jan. 2 decision.

The judge wrote that in 1996 and 2003, the town supported mining on the property, but by 2010-11, it did not. The issue, he wrote, is whether the parties are bound by a 2003 development agreement the town made with former property owner Harrison Merrill. The judge found:

“… If the town wanted to eliminate mining, it should have raised the issue and executed an appropriate amendment to the development agreement in accordance with the mandated procedure for amendment instead of adopting a tortured interpretation of amendments to the PUDs.”

Stacy Gramazio, Florence Copper’s manager of communications and public affairs, commented by email:

“In October 2013 the town of Florence initiated legal action against Florence Copper to prohibit mining and to confiscate Florence Copper’s private property through the power of eminent domain.

“The Superior Court has ruled against the town of Florence on both counts and upheld Florence Copper’s 35-year right to mine copper on its property. In-situ copper recovery operations have commenced at our Florence Copper Project Test Facility.”

“We are proud of what our local team here at Florence has accomplished — the on-time and on-budget completion of both the SX/EW plant (the facility where copper cathodes are produced) and the drilling required to establish the wellfield. This is a key milestone of achievement along the road to commercial production,” Gramazio said.

The town commented late Tuesday, “The town of Florence is reviewing all legal options and remedies available in light of Judge Brodman’s recent ruling.”

The in-situ process dissolves chrysocolla copper oxide deep underground, then pumps this leach solution back to the surface. The dissolved copper is extracted from the solvent and plated into 100-pound sheets in a process called solvent extraction and electrowinning, or SX/EW.

While Florence Copper has many local supporters, other residents and town officials worry about potential contamination of the groundwater, or the potential for an accident involving regular deliveries of sulfuric acid to Florence. While operations on the company’s land have been blocked, it has proceeded on land leased from the state, with the state’s approval.

Test phase begins

Florence Copper began injecting leach solution in a small area of the mine last month to begin its one- or two-year testing phase.

“Wellfield operations were commenced and injection and recovery systems have now been fully ramped up” at the Florence Copper Project, owner Taseko Mines Limited of Canada said in a news release Tuesday.

“Following an initial leaching period, leach solutions are flowing at expected levels, and copper has been detected in solutions recovered from process sample wells,” the announcement said.

“Our preliminary tracer tests of the wellfield in the third quarter 2018 exhibited robust percolation rates through the ore body,” Russell Hallbauer, president and CEO of Taseko, said in the news release. “These results were as good as, and in some cases better than, modeled in the 2017 technical study. The rate at which the dissolved copper is increasing in the leach solution further confirms historical test work and technical data.”

“We have always taken a disciplined and measured approach with all of our capital projects,” Hallbauer continued. “We perform the necessary work to ensure our projects are technically sound, that we understand our capital commitments and that the environment is protected. While it has taken us some time to get to this point with Florence, the additional time taken will ensure that the project generates strong returns for our shareholders and protects the environment to the highest standards for the local community.”

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