By Chase Kamp
After shocking residents and stakeholders with the decision to reject its mutual benefits agreement with Resolution Copper and withdraw support for the federal bill aimed to kick-start a local copper project, the Superior Town Council took public comment at its meeting on Mar. 7, 2013.
While some spoke in favor of the council’s move, many residents were not pleased at the sudden turnaround in support for what they consider a major potential economic engine for the Town.
The council voted on Feb. 21 to terminate its mutual benefits agreement with Resolution Copper Company and rescinded its unqualified support for the Southeast Arizona Land Exchange, the federal bill crucial to the Resolution Copper Project.
The decision was listed as a loosely-worded item on the council’s meeting agenda under the executive session, which is a protected discussion period that allows the council to meet privately with legal counsel.
Resident Nancy Vogler told the council it should have shown more respect to the mining company and the public by having a more transparent discussion. “By having a closed session where you literally pulled the rug out from underneath us, it’s a sign of disrespect for me,” she said.
She argued the copper project is already divisive enough among Superior residents. “This town is too small have it be split in half,” she added.
Cathy Long, an employee at a local store, spoke for many in the town that feel they directly benefit from Resolution’s financial support of the community.
“They buy a lot of stuff from us,” she said. “We would be shut down if it wasn’t for them.”
However, many environmental activists and representatives from the San Marcos Apache Tribe voiced their support for the Town’s actions.
Roger Featherstone with Arizona Mining Reform Coalition said the mutual benefits agreement was one-sided in favor of Resolution. “This agreement was bad from the beginning,” he said. “The Town did the right thing in finally negating it.”
According to a written statement released by the Town, support has been withdrawn for the project because of what the town sees as an unfair deal outlined in the agreement.
Only four of the seven Town Council members voted on the agreement termination. The other three members recused themselves due to anticipated conflicts of interest.
In a letter written to bill co-sponsors Gosar and Kirkpatrick, as well as Governor Jan Brewer and Arizona Senators John McCain and Jeff Flake, the Town said it could not support the federal land exchange bill.
“While the Town generally supports the mine, we cannot offer our unqualified support of the bills as drafted,” the letter reads.
The Town’s statement argues because of its budget crisis, it cannot afford the purchase of the cemetery, an airport reversionary interest and some adjacent airport property as outlined by the land exchange.
“The Town finances simply cannot support these purchases or terms,” the statement read.
The Town’s statement argued that an article of the agreement provides that Resolution shall have no liability to the Town for contributions or otherwise, if, in Resolution’s sole discretion, “other factors” are needed to accomplish the Exchange.
“In other words, the interests of the Town could be bargained away if necessary to accomplish the Land Exchange,” the statement reads.
Council member Gilbert Aguilar defended the council’s decision to reevaluate the agreement between Superior and Resolution Copper. “When your attorney says this is not good for Superior, I have to agree,” he said.
He argued that he had apprehensions back when the agreement was renewed in 2010. “I did not want to be a bad guy, but kept saying, ‘There’s something wrong here,’” he said.
In a statement, Resolution Copper said the issues outlined by the town “were not insurmountable.” Renegotiations between town officials and the company began shortly after the council’s negation of the agreement, according to town officials.
The Town’s letter to Resolution Copper can be read online here.
Resolution’s response to the letter can be read online here.