Inactive since 1998, Freeport-McMoRan’s Cobre Mine resumed operations in July after completion of the bridge and tunnel over Highway 152. Hanover Mountain will disappear from the landscape within 4 – 7 years as the company mines its ore and hauls it to Chino’s Lampbright Stockpile for leaching using the new 3.6-mile haul road that connects the two mines. Freeport has now officially incorporated Cobre into the Chino Mine facility.
With the increase in mining activity at Chino and Cobre, local residents have been experiencing a range of negative impacts, including increased traffic and speeding from mine employees, significant fugitive dust from the haul road, building damage from blasting vibrations and increased noise, nuisance lighting, and odors.
Reopening the Cobre Mine has also affected the local community’s cultural heritage. Hanover Mountain has been a sacred mountain to the local residents of Fierro. Pilgrimages to the top of the mountain were a part of lo-cal religious celebrations for decades. Landscape changes cause sadness and strong feelings of loss among community members. Additionally, structural damage continues to occur to St. Anthony’s Church in Fierro from blasting vibrations. Fortunately, Freeport is compensating the church for the repairs.
Freeport has also told the community that the Hanover Cemetery, located at the intersection of highways 152 and 356, is on its property and that it is likely to stop future burials, although visitations will continue. There are no current plans to move the cemetery, but the company has said that it may need to in the future.
Because the church and the Fierro and Hanover cemeteries are part of the community’s cultural heritage, they have been the focus of local preservation efforts
GRIP advocates for community health and environmental protection
GRIP and its consultant, mining engineer Jim Kuipers, have been actively involved in review of and comment on the water quality discharge permits, Mining Act permit, closure/ closeout plan and associated financial assurance for the Cobre mine. Our job has been to ensure that the permits comply with state regulations, to encourage use of Best Management Practices, especially for materials handling and water management, and to push regulators to require adequate financial assurance to cover cleanup should Freeport go bankrupt. Additionally, as part of its Memorandum of Agreement with Freeport, GRIP is working with the company to identify measures to mitigate community impacts.
GRIP’s advocacy pressured Freeport to initiate monthly community meetings in April to listen to community concerns and answer questions. The meetings are held on the second Thursday of the month from 4 – 6 pm at the Hanover Outpost.
Future expansion planned?
Company officials have said that recent exploration activities indicate potential for extensive ore bodies under Hanover and the Continental pit. Given the higher cost of production for the sulfide ore located at Chino, the Cobre/Continental Mine is the key to the long-term viability of Chino if Freeport can prove up the leachable oxide ore that is cheaper to process. Chino mine will be looking for new stockpile space and potentially moving Highway 152 if the new reserves are confirmed according to a Freeport official.