RYAN VAN VELZER, Associated Press
PHOENIX (AP) — An Arizona Republican congressman has condemned the U.S. Forest Service for adding the Oak Flats campground to the National Registry of Historic Places, saying the move is meant to sabotage a mining operation.
U.S. Rep. Paul Gosar said Monday the campgrounds is a “bogus” historic site that’s meant to sabotage efforts to reach a 1.7 billion-ton copper ore deposit that sits deep underneath the area.
Last week, the National Park Service declared the Oak Flats campgrounds outside Superior, Arizona, as a historic place to be included in the registry.
The park service was required to determine its eligibility as part of an environmental review process associated with a land exchange that awarded 2,400 acres of federal land to Resolution Copper Mining, said Jeremy Barnum, a spokesman for the park service.
The designation would not necessarily stop mining in the area, but it would be considered as part of any environmental review process involved in that use.
As miners remove ore, the land on top is expected to fracture and collapse, creating a two-mile wide, 1,000-foot-deep crater that could swallow the Oak Flats campground and destroy part of Apache Leap Ridge.
Resolution Copper obtained the land in 2014 when Sen. John McCain attached a provision to a defense bill that transferred the lands, including Oak Flats, to the company in exchange for 5,300 acres of land owned by Resolution Copper.
The campgrounds were first protected from mining by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1955 and now serve as a recreation area for campers, hikers and climbers.
Conservationists covet Oak Flats and nearby Devil’s Canyon as a unique high-desert habitat while the San Carlos Apache tribe believes it’s where life originated on Earth.
Gosar said in a written statement that Oak Flats is not a sacred site and believes the mine would benefit surrounding communities with jobs.
He accused the Obama administration of pandering to extremist environmental groups rather than following the law and listening to the American public.
Gosar was unavailable for further comment.
Environmental advocates argue the area has long had significant cultural, historical and ecological significance.
“We’ve objected to the land swap from the beginning because we think that it is worthy of that designation and Oak Flats should continue to be protected,” said Sandy Bahr, who lobbies for the Sierra Club’s Arizona chapter. “‘People still object to it being sacrificed to the short-term profits of foreign mining companies.”
Resolution Copper Mining, a subsidiary of British-Australian Rio Tinto and Australian BHP Billiton, says the mine will bring in the equivalent of roughly a $1 billion in revenue annually for about 60 years. The company plans to tap into the ore using block-cave mining, a technique that involves digging beneath the ore body and setting off explosions to break apart the ore.