Open-pits disembowel Mother Earth like no C-section

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Posted: Wednesday, October 3, 2012 9:42 am

It is reassuring to see the Nogales International publisher strongly encouraging business development in Santa Cruz County (“Open minds to the mines,” NI, Sept. 18). Regrettably, the inspiration for your editorial came from a mining company banner at a social event. With your editorial title being "Open Minds to the Mines" you have stipulated that we must adhere to a comprehensive and critical evaluation along with clear sighted analysis of what this open pit mine will mean to our county. Acceptance of a business opportunity should not be based upon a hasty knee-jerk reaction to an advertising banner.

It is unrealistic to feel comfortable about the new open-pit mines because of your father's brief experience working at the Trench Mine. It is impossible to compare the Trench and Hardshell Mines of the last century to the current open-pit mining process. To declare them one and the same is misplaced nostalgia. Growing up in Mohave County, I have first-hand experience with the Goldroad, Oatman, Chloride and Signal Mines – none of these produced environmental destruction to the same magnitude as an open pit mine.

In Santa Cruz County, the old Mowry Mine at the head of Corral Canyon was worked for several centuries and its silver smelter relied on oak trees cut down by woodcutters. The area of Corral Canyon and Mowry Wash demonstrates extensive second growth of oak trees originally felled for wood to fuel the old Mowry smelter furnaces. The dimension of impermanent environmental destruction by the Mowry Mine was exceptionally small compared to the area of permanent devastation that will be created by the proposed Wildcat Silver Mine at the nearby Hardshell Mine site. Since modern day open pit-mines require a working area of 10 to 15 square miles for mine pit, tailing piles, ore processing, water recirculation and retention ponds, and cyanide treatment and leaching ponds, the old Mowry Mine and the thousands of regrown oak trees will now be threatened with irreversible obliteration by Wildcat Silver – along with the scattered graves of the Mexican woodcutters who died during that era.

I also have a mining heritage. My grandfather and his two brothers worked for more than a spell as muleskinners in the southeastern Colorado coal mines. They worked for more than a decade at a two-dollars-per-day wage, twelve hours a day, with a six-day-per-week schedule; and no benefits. The families of miners accidentally killed in these John D. Rockefeller, Jr. mines were supported by other families passing the hat. Their willingness to work in the mines ended in 1914 when their families were attacked by Rockefeller's men and the Colorado National Guard in the striking miners' camp at Ludlow, Colorado. Fortunately, all of my relatives survived the Ludlow Massacre.

Even though my grandfather was an illiterate North Italian immigrant, he had a great deal of common sense and wisdom and he understood very well that technology was rapidly advancing in the mining industry. He knew he would not be rehired to work the new mines. Skilled miners from Denver, Pueblo and Raton were being employed. If he were alive, he would be reminding us to find out who will be hired to work these advanced technology open pit mines as most of the jobs will not go to local citizens inexperienced in open pit mining.

If the landscape and clean water resources were completely restored during and after mining operations, there would not be passionate arguments against the mines. It is correct to say “Mining technology too has come a long way from the days of statehood,” but one must ask how the new tools are used. Technology is tools. The use of a tool is determined by the human mind and heart. New tools are not being invented to enable mining companies to completely reverse their destruction of the environment. Mining companies demand that new tools be developed for the sole purpose of efficiently removing mineral wealth from the earth with the least expense. There is no altruistic ethic in the mining industry demanding that our environment be returned to a healthy pre-mining state. Their industry has never agreed to allocate profits to complete restoration of what has been contaminated and destroyed. When a mine is no longer profitable, the company declares bankruptcy and their executives escape back to Canada, Britain and Australia where they cannot be touched. Who cleans up the toxic debris and damage? The American taxpayer.

Since these mining industry historical facts do not reveal adherence to an ethical code as compared to medicine, it is laughable to compare new technology for open pit mining with technological advancements used for caesarean sections. All of medicine is guided by a principal precept of medical ethics – first do no harm. Medical procedures are developed under the umbrella of medical ethics to facilitate healing of the human body and not to harm or permanently compromise the patient. New medical technology assists the physician in better diagnosis and treatment with only one goal in mind – heal the patient and return the patient to a healthy state.

To mine the pregnant uterus and witness the magical delivery of a healthy baby followed by the complete recovery of a mother's health is completely opposite to an open pit mine permanently disemboweling Mother Earth.

Opposition to mining does not mean we have no concerns about developing employment for our families in need. However, we should be proactive in developing new business opportunities and not sitting back to wait for the next magical elixir salesman to exit the freeway promising jobs for everyone. It is illogical and unreasonable to accuse “others complaining about the mines (who) live comfortably in some of our rural areas and already got theirs so to speak.” Are you accusing industrious and successful ranching families in our rural areas as holding back development of industry and employment sources? Similarly, are you accusing farmers, contractors and business owners of preventing industrial development? Your accusation focus should be forcefully directed toward those responsible for bringing new business and industry to Santa Cruz County – county administrative officers.

How can this county bring in new industry if its previous administrative officers have not done their job? We have had a past administrative officer who deliberately ignored and rejected information and offers for the county to apply for grants and funds for alternative energy plants and their related manufacturing enterprises to be established in Santa Cruz County. And this neglectful past administrator has been hired by Augusta Resources to be in charge of Wildcat Silver's Office of Sustainable Development. It is unthinkable for any open pit mine to claim their business to be sustainable development. The landmark definition of sustainable development is: “Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

How can all of us, including mine worker families, meet our immediate and future generations' needs when we are left with permanent compromise and destruction of the environment - contamination and restriction of water resources – bad air quality during pit excavation and from residual mountains of tailing debris – disruption of communities with inordinate increase in truck and railway transportation of ore going to China – overuse destruction of existing roads and highways to be repaired with taxpayer money – hazardous ore transfer stations – significant decrease in all property values. How in the world does this represent “sustainable development?”

Since “sustainable development” is impossible for an open pit mine to achieve, then affixing this intentionally deceptive label to its operations can be regarded only as a smoke and mirrors scheme. Augusta Resources has no previous experience developing a mine. They have hired an executive with a past history of failure to develop business and industry in this area. Are these facts a formula for success in this county? The important question is what methods are really being used to convince our county government and chamber of commerce that we need their open pit mine?

This land is our home. Water is life. Minerals and metals are commodities.

I say no to the mines.

(Coppa owns the Venado Cola Blanca Vineyard, Inc., in Patagonia.)

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