After more than 36 years of public service in the Arizona Legislature and Pinal County Board of Supervisors and being a lifelong resident of the Copper Corridor, I’ve seen my fair share of economic development proposals for our state. To form an opinion about whether a project makes sense for our county and our state, I try to understand how a proposal could impact local jobs and Pinal County families — whether the proposed project will bring sustainable growth and improve the lives in our communities.
One project that will have a big impact on the future of Arizona is nearing a critical milestone. The Resolution Copper project, which could supply America with 25% of the copper we need, has been working its way through a long and detailed process since around 2013, when the U.S. Forest Service, under the Obama administration, initiated an environmental impact statement process on the proposed mine. This process, managed by the Forest Service, has been an enormous undertaking informed by more than 30,000 individual public comments and detailed feedback from local stakeholders. It details thousands of different ways this project will be managed and be accountable to our local environment and the people of Arizona.
When the final report is released, likely sometime before February, it will be an important moment in the life of this proposed project. So it’s important for Arizona’s residents and businesses to understand why so many local elected officials, myself included, as well as members of Arizona’s congressional delegation, the local Chambers of Commerce, labor unions and thousands of other people who live and work in Pinal County, all support Resolution Copper. There are three big reasons. First, jobs. Resolution Copper is estimated to at its peak create more than 3,000 direct and indirect well-paying jobs in a region that desperately needs them. The project will also be a $60 billion economic engine for our state once it’s finally approved and operational. This type of job and economic growth is vital to Pinal County and the Copper Corridor since spending by base industries, and the associated taxes, stimulate local business and construction, business services, banks and hospitals. The revenue from this mine will result in lower taxes for residents across the county and especially in Superior and sustained investments that strengthen communities. In fact, since 2004, the company that operates the mine estimates that $540 million has been spent within just a 40-mile radius of the town of Superior. That kind of local investment doesn’t happen by accident.
Second, the project has proven it is open and willing to take local feedback. The communication between the U.S. Forest Service, which is in charge of approving the project, Resolution Copper and the local community show that the mine operators are listening. The biggest example is the location of the tailings, or the unused ore from the mine. After a lot of feedback from area residents and local officials, the unused ore is going to be moved off public lands and far away from local communities and popular recreational areas. These changes have helped prove that Resolution Copper is listening and working with the local community to make the project a success. That’s important for the project to continue to earn my support.
Third, the project is going to result in a better, stronger Pinal County for local residents. One example is the 15 years (and $80 million) the company spent to restore 231 acres of the old Magma Copper West Plant. This not only improved the environment but has provided significant local employment. Another example close to my heart is what the mine means for local schools. Last year, Resolution agreed to a four-year, $1.2 million agreement with the Superior Unified School District, including providing support for STEM and robotics programs at local schools. And this year, the company committed to $780,000 to assist local organizations primarily across Pinal and Gila counties during the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. As state and local governments are stretched further than ever before, it is support for projects like this one that are going to help sustain our communities.
As Pinal County District 1 supervisor and a native to the Hayden-Winkelman area, I am extremely familiar with copper mining — both the opportunity it represents and its legacy. I know the Resolution Copper project and the enormous opportunities a project like this can unlock for Pinal County. I think you’ll agree, as I do, that Resolution Copper is good for Arizona and good for the people of Pinal County.
Pete Rios is vice chairman of the Pinal County Board of Supervisors.