Town of Florence ordered to pay $1.7 million to copper mine

After a long legal battle over an “in-situ” copper mine in central Arizona, the town of Florence has been ordered to pay $1.7 million in attorneys’ fees to Florence Copper.

The town, which sought to block the mine for years, lost the battle when Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Roger Brodman ruled in favor of Florence Copper earlier this year, stating it has a vested right to mine its own property.

Now, it’s time for the town to pay up, the judge said in a June 6 ruling.

“The Town made it clear that it would accept nothing less than shutting down Florence Copper’s business,” Brodman’s ruling states. “This factor strongly cuts in favor of an award of fees to Florence Copper.”

While the town “heavily litigated” the case, it never attempted to make “any reasonable offer” to settle the dispute, the ruling said.

“The Town decided to aggressively engage in multimillion-dollar litigation against Florence Copper in the face of a Development Agreement which, in the court’s mind, contradicts the Town’s position. The Town took a risk, lost, and should bear the consequences of this litigation decision.”

Mines uses “in-situ” method for extracting copper

After the court ruled in favor of Florence Copper, it commenced operations at its new Wellfield test facility. The facility uses in-situ copper recovery, a more environmentally responsible way of extracting copper from the ground, company officials said. A low-pH solution similar in strength to household vinegar slowly dissolves copper in the bedrock into a liquid and pumps it to the surface.

The deposit is flushed with water after the copper extraction is complete, so none of the solution is left behind. The water just outside of the project area is continually monitored to ensure proper water quality, they said.

Long, litigious, road to operation

In April, the company harvested its first 3,700 pounds of copper cathode.

To get to this point, it has undergone one of the longest, most thorough and detailed examinations of a mining project in the history of Arizona, company officials said.

For seven years, the town filed lawsuits to block the mine. The town challenged the mine on the basis of a zoning ordinance passed in 2007 that prohibits mining on the property. But the court determined that Florence Copper is entitled to operate under the terms of its 2003 development agreement with the town.

Now, the town must pay Florence Copper $1.7 million in legal fees plus $32,265 in costs. That’s on top of the $1.5 million the town incurred paying its own attorneys fight the legal challenges.

“That’s $3.2 million and counting,” Brian Battison, vice president of corporate affairs for the Florence Copper’s parent company, Taseko Mines Limited of Vancouver, said in a prepared statement after the ruling.

The town council seems undeterred by the financial impact of their decisions on their citizens, Battison states.

“We remain puzzled and discouraged by the decisions coming from the Town Council of Florence. They continue their litigation tactics and spending, appealing previous decisions they have lost, challenging others, risking further cost awards that will likely go against them as well.”

Now, the town is threatening to continue to file more appeals. Then, on June 21, it stepped forward saying it wants to make a “one-sided” settlement, Taseko Mines and Florence Copper President and CEO Russell Hallbauer said in a letter.

Economic benefits to Florence, central Arizona

As the legal battles threaten to drag on, Florence Copper is continuing forward with operations.

The commercial life of the copper project is expected to be 25 years. It is projected to produce 55 million pounds annually for the first six years and 85 million pounds annually for 14 years, company data shows.

In full production, the mine will create 170 direct jobs on site and 626 indirect including welders, electricians, engineers, shift supervisors, IT advisors, maintenance personnel, security guards, accountants, administrative assistants, and safety coordinators.

Arizona would receive an economic uplift of $3.4 billion with $2.1 billion remaining in Pinal County. An estimated $468 million will go for state revenues and royalties, according to the company analysis.

Approximately $68.5 million will be accrued by the town of Florence.

Victoria Harker

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