The gaping mouth of Resolution Copper Mining’s No. 10 shaft is 28 feet across and opens into a sheer drop of nearly 7,000 feet, making it the deepest continuous mine shaft in the United States. It’s also probably the deepest location where Arizona news reporters have roamed.
In recent months, Resolution Copper Mining — a subsidiary of mining giants London-based Rio Tinto Group and Australia-based BHP Billiton Ltd. — has brought journalists, decked out in helmets, boots and safety harnesses, on tours down the dark shaft. Bloomberg News took a tour last December. Reporters from Arizona Public Media and Phoenix’s Fox 10 ventured down earlier this year. The Star took a turn in April.
“We’ve got a great story,” Resolution project director Andrew Taplin said. “We’re going to generate a lot of economic benefits and we want to tell our story.”
Once the mine is operational — likely not for another 10 years — it’s expected to produce 25 percent of the U.S. copper supply, or 1 billion pounds annually. Supporters say it will help revive the flagging economy of Superior, which has weathered the boom-and-bust cycle of mining for generations.
But opponents say the media tours are an effort to distract from controversy over the mine’s expected environmental impacts and the damage it will do to the Oak Flat recreation area, considered sacred to Native Americans and recently added to the National Register of Historic Places.
“They have to keep the public interest up, especially when the opposition is growing so dramatically,” said Roy Chavez, a former miner and director of the Concerned Citizens and Retired Miners Coalition, which opposes the mine. He is also a former mayor of Superior.
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