Arizona town bitterly split over copper mine – by Paul Waldie (Globe and Mail – January 19, 2012)

The Globe and Mail is Canada’s national newspaper with the second largest broadsheet circulation in the country. It has enormous influence on Canada’s political and business elite.

Florence, Ariz., isn’t the kind of place that usually gets a lot of attention. After all, its main claim to fame is being home to nine prisons.

But these days Florence is up in arms over plans by a Canadian company to build a copper mine right in the middle of town. The proposed mine, by Vancouver-based Curis Resources Ltd., has garnered national attention and brought out some heavy hitters, including Arizona Governor Jan Brewer and developer Robert Sarver, who owns the Phoenix Suns basketball team.

Ms. Brewer has expressed support for the project, saying it will spark badly needed economic development in the area. Mr. Sarver, whose company has a housing project in town, is backing a campaign to stop the mine, arguing it will ruin the water supply.

The city’s 10,000 residents are bitterly divided over the proposed mine. A recent survey by city officials found 39 per cent of locals support the mine, 32 per cent don’t and 28 per cent aren’t sure. There have been a host of noisy public meetings and lawn-sign campaigns, and stacks of nasty letters to the local newspaper.

“I’ve never seen anything quite like it,” said businesswoman Lina Austin, who’s running for mayor and says she is open to the mine. “I almost thought they were going to string me up like a lynch mob one day. It was really amazing.”

Like many people, Ms. Austin blames outsiders, like Mr. Sarver, for orchestrating opposition to the project. She and others say these people live in wealthy communities outside town and aren’t looking out for the best interests of long-time Florence residents.

Not so, says 76-year old Robert Stoppell, who lives in a wealthy outlying area called Anthem. He says most people don’t support the mine because of environmental concerns.

“The people in Florence kind of look upon us as the rich neighbour who doesn’t really care about things in Florence and that is so far from the truth,” said Mr. Stoppell. “Most of the people in this area feel that the risks of the mine outweigh the rewards by 100 per cent.”

Battles like this have become common across North America as communities wrestle with projects, such as the Keystone XL and Northern Gateway pipelines, which offer economic development but affect the environment.

In Florence, opponents of the mine have been winning the battle so far. City council has voted twice to reject the mine, including a 7-1 vote in December.

But Curis isn’t backing down. The company, connected to privately held Hunter Dickinson Inc., is pushing ahead and plans to seek approval for part of the project from state officials.

For the rest of this article, please go to the Globe and Mail website: