In October, Freeport-McMoRan submitted applications to the state for permits for a new mine unit at the Tyrone Mine. Located on the southeast side of Tyrone just to the west of Highway 90, the Emma Project will cover approximately 400 acres of disturbance, including construction of an open pit 600 feet deep. The project will require abandonment of the existing Tyrone-Thompson Road and development of a new road to access the Gila National Forest and the Burro Mountain Homestead. Additionally, a new haul road will be built to transport ore from the open pit to leach stockpiles at the Tyrone Mine and waste rock to new and existing waste rock stockpiles at Emma and Tyrone. With a 5-year mine plan, the project is estimated to add 3 to 5 years of mine life to Tyrone’s operation.
During operations, the open pit will need to be dewatered since it will extend 200 feet below groundwater. The company says that the resulting cone of depression won’t extend to residential wells, but its groundwater modeling does not incorporate the extensive fracturing of the underlying rock. At closure, a pit lake will form that will exceed state water quality standards posing a threat to wildlife.
Local residents, the closest living approximately a half mile to the south of Emma, are concerned about impacts to their groundwater wells, health from groundwater contamination and fugitive dust emissions, and property values from expanded mining operations. They have raised their concerns to Freeport as well as to the Grant County Commission given that some nuisance issues like lighting and noise are not regulated by the state Mining Act.
The company has responded by holding community information sessions and one-on-one meetings with adjacent property owners, conducting noise, lighting and viewshed studies, and developing a plan to address vibrations from blasting. Tyrone has installed metering on a residential well to collect baseline groundwater level data and monitor any impacts to residential water supplies. The company will be drilling a “sentinel well” between the Emma open pit and the Apache Mound Subdivision to detect changes to groundwater levels and water quality before any impacts can reach residential wells.
Despite these positive steps by the mine, residents want enforceable commitments from Freeport that they will be made whole for any impairment to their groundwater supplies. They also want enforceable requirements for nuisance lighting, noise, fugitive dust, and blasting impacts.
GRIP and local residents have requested a public hearing under the Mining Act, which has been granted by the state Mining and Minerals Division. The date and time still need to be set.
GRIP and its technical consultant, Jim Kuipers, will be reviewing in detail the application, reclamation plan and associated studies in preparation for the public hearing. We will continue to support local residents’ participation in the permitting process.