/ Modified apr 12, 2021 2:42 p.m.

Arizonans attend board meeting of international company proposing copper mine at Oak Flat

Leaders in the effort to oppose the mining project ask shareholders to abandon the project and leave Arizona.

Oak Flat campground A scene from the Oak Flat campground, a site sacred to Apache peoples and the epicenter of lawsuits trying to block the development of a large copper mine.
Courtesy of Russ McSpadden/Center for Biological Diversity

Local activists attended a shareholder's meeting Friday of one of the parent groups of Resolution Copper, the company proposing to make Oak Flat, an Apache religious site near Superior, Arizona, into a copper mine.

Two of the people who virtually attended the Rio Tinto meeting in London were Roger Featherstone and Henry Munoz, the chair of the Concerned Citizens & Retired Miner’s Coalition. Featherstone is the director of the Arizona Mining Reform Coalition. Both of them opposed the mining project at Oak Flat and submitted comments asking when Rio Tinto would abandon the project.

"[The Arizona Mining Reform Coalition isn't] anti-mining, but we're anti-stupidity, and in the case of Resolution Copper, the proposal is so preposterous that we have no choice, but to oppose it," Featherstone said in an interview with AZPM.

Oak Flat is currently a part of the Tonto National Forest, but in 2014 Congress approved a bill that swapped 2,422 acres of forest land for some owned by Resolution Copper. Underneath Oak Flat is one of the largest undeveloped copper deposits in the world, according to the Tonto National Forest and previous drilling.

The area itself is sacred to Apache peoples and continues to be a religious epicenter of different ceremonies and prayers. Apache Stronghold, a nonprofit advocating to protect Oak Flat, is filing multiple actions in court to preserve the religious site for current and future Apache.

Featherstone also brought up the company's recent destruction of sacred rock shelters in Australia that received considerable international blowback.

"You promised never to do it again. If your words mean anything, you have no choice but to abandon the project," Featherstone wrote in his statement to the Rio Tinto shareholders about the proposed project. "You would devastate a people’s culture and religion."

He asked when the company was going to leave Arizona alone.

Featherstone said that the shareholders expressed they'd learned a lesson in cultural sensitivity in Australia, and that "they'll never let it happen again."

"They said that they had not broken the law in blowing up the caves, but that clearly they should have gone beyond the written law to do what was right. But at Oak Flat, they're clearly not planning on doing that."

Multiple lawsuits have been filed over the project, some of which focus on religious freedoms and others environmental impacts.

According to a press release from the Center for Biological Diversity, the mine would use the same amount of groundwater each year as the City of Tempe, Arizona and "threaten to contaminate" it.

The chairman of Rio Tinto, Simon Thompson, said at the meeting only a small percentage of the state's total consumption of water would be used, and there would be enough water for developments in the future.

"But that flies in the face of every study that's been commissioned by our experts," Featherstone said.

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