At a public input session Wednesday evening, many community members stood to make comments about a copper mine rule draft document.
Joseph Shepard, Western New Mexico University president, said he applauded those speaking from both sides of the issue.
"It is important to strike a balance," he said. "The university promotes a marketplace of ideas and critical thinking. I believe this draft is balanced and is sensitive to water issues."
He continued that the rule is not based on Freeport McMoRan Copper & Gold Inc., but what is best for the copper mining industry and environmental water quality.
"There is an economic development impact if rules get too strict and stringent," Shepard said. He referred to the rise and fall of copper prices. "If you ramp up the expense, it will decrease the ability to extract copper. We're talking about not just jobs. We're talking about a geologist who moves his family here and who will stay and contribute to the quality of life. A balance of these rules gives industry a way to continue while protecting water rights."
Harry Browne of Gila Resources Information Project said protecting water resources is critical. "The state should be proud of its Water Quality Act, unlike states to the west and east. We should be thinking 100 years out. The rules do not protect water quality for the foreseeable future. I think it is not adequate, and I would like to see it return to the previous draft version."
Starr Belsky, small business owner, said: "I am not bound to the needs of stockholders. I'm am well aware of the importance and tradition of mining, but considerations need to be balanced with the needs for water. You cannot negotiate with a plume of polluted water. We need the rule to be long-term, not short sighted."
She said the draft had been rewritten in support of mining over the mission of the New Mexico Environment Department to protect water quality.
"It happens on a level that no one is privy to," she alleged. She said the sudden transition felt like something that happened in Maryland, where she used to live. "It troubles me, the bait and switch, after the work for months on the process. What would the extra cost be to put liners on future impoundments? I hope the Environment Department upper management can find it in their heart to protect water for the long-term."
Lola Polley, Grant County-Silver City Chamber of Commerce executive director, said she has owned a home in the Mining District since 1984. "Without the copper industry, many small businesses would be out of business. Freeport is an exemplary service organization for non-profits and schools. I understand that, as water is life, copper mining is life for the community. It benefits state and local economies. I am in support of the rules as proposed."
Mike McMillan, Grant County Prospectors president, said he supports the process enacted to adopt the rules with an advisory committee to "allow the mining industry to provide economic development and protect the water."
A man read a letter from Rebecca Summers, who was not in attendance.
"This draft is inconsistent with the Water Quality Act," Summers wrote.
Grant County Manager Jon Paul Saari said he was speaking on behalf of the commissioners who could not be at the meeting. "We are in support of the copper rules," he said. "Freeport is a great boost to the county. I used to work at the mines. The first thing drilled in my head was that we had to protect the groundwater, as well as protecting the environment and the safety of the workers and their families. If you can't harvest something, you have to mine it. Even solar power uses copper. I do hear of contamination of septic systems into groundwater, and I do understand the balance of the mines and protecting the groundwater."
Nick Sussillo of the Joint Office of Sustainability said water for years has been becoming more critical in volume and quality. "I saw 10 concerns from GRIP, that if true, make me very concerned about the last-minute change." He said if the department gave people the chance to collaborate, they should listen. If the mine is not following industry-based best practices, "at face value that is absurd. I think it's a false comment that it is the water issue versus Freeport. The company should be able to make a fair buck. Safe drinking water should be a separate issue. I support Amigos Bravos, and I ask the Environment Department why they made the changes."
James Goodkind said in 1975, he came to Silver City and worked for a rancher, who used to say: "Jim, you ain't got water, you ain't got nuthin'."
Trent Petty, Silver Schools Board president said he is in support of the compromise on the rules.
Cissy McAndrew, Southwest New Mexico Green Chamber executive director, thanked Phelps-Dodge for bringing her to Silver City. "I was working with the environmental agency to teach students in critical thinking to turn into responsible citizens. The mine was very supportive. The world has changed, and Freeport understands the world has changed. The language I understand is about the triple bottom line—economic, social and environmental. If the company is not good stewards, it will face reputational risks. That's why it's working with communities. Choices we make today will be with us for the future. I think the triple bottom line will work for the state. It's is not one side or another."
"You need to get back to the table, and figure out what will work for now and the future," McAndrew suggested.
Rick Miller, contractor who oversees medical facilities that provide biologic monitoring of Freeport employees, said he has worked closely with Phelps-Dodge and Freeport.
"The rules from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration found that Phelps-Dodge and Freeport went beyond federal requirements for monitoring," Miller said. "The companies sent employees for additional testing to make sure they were not being impacted by anything. I don't know of one person whose results were abnormal. An extreme amount of expense went into the employees and contractors' employees. I commend the amount of attention and money the companies gave to the issue. I am in support of the rules. It's your job, and I appreciate your hearing all sides. I have faith you made the right decision."
Jony Cockman, who said she is a federal employee, but was speaking for herself, said: "I am hearing fragmentation that is not necessary. I commend the company for reclamation, but nothing replaces safe drinking water. Even the best management practices may not be the most recent and the best available science (may be) outdated. Put the old drafts out for the public to see and be clear about the changes and why. I encourage the green groups and industry to be open-minded."
Ted Wagner, who is new to Silver City, said it was obvious to him how important the mining industry is. "I see no reason that if the rules are passed that Freeport will leave. All changes to be made will not add a nickel to the price of a pound of copper. I've heard it is a wonderful company and takes care of the environment. Why fight if they at least come up to industry standards."
"As for the stakeholders, if they came together and decided what is satisfactory to both, I'm not sure why it fell apart," Wagner said. "Was it published? Could we see the original agreement and see the changes? I think we can provide the highest quality of life, while protecting the environment."
Dan Lorimier of the Sierra Club Rio Grande Chapter said he remembered when Sen. Clinton Harden crafted and recrafted Bill 206. "I realized how committed he was. He believed in the necessity of advisors and stakeholders, with the general public, environmental groups, industry and academics being part of the process. When I heard what happened to this stakeholders' process, it sounds like the administration and industry are doing an end run. I think Harden would not approve."
Lorna Ruebelmann of the Silver City chapter of Great Old Broads for Wilderness said: "We need copper. We have cell phones and computers. Freeport contributes to the community, but we're here about water. To maintain quantity and quality, there are rules that Freeport and others will have to follow. My concern is for the community to have adequate, affordable good water. I ask the rule be revisited and looked at. New things have happened to our society to strengthen water quality, quantity and affordability."
Janet Wallet-Ortiz, WNMU professor, thanked those who work for GRIP, Amigos Bravos and the Sierra Club. "They were trusting the process would be respected. My understanding is that Freeport can create impoundments without liners." She cited the incident in Tennessee where sludge impacted families.
"I want full disclosure," she said. "I did not hear Sally (Smith) or Rachel (Conn) talking about closing Freeport. The proposed rule is a slap in the face to those who worked on it. Freeport agreed to the first draft. What happened? I think the stakeholders could sue for expenses, loss or work time. I want to demand the resignation of accessories in the Environment Department."
She looked around and blustered: "I'm talking to Dr. Shepard. I see he has left. He doesn't have a clue about critical thinking. I know critical thinking. I teach it."
Kristy Rogers of Silver Regional Sexual Assault Support Services and Louise Ortega of the SASS board said the group, since receiving funding from the Freeport Community Investment Fund, has gone from a part-time employee and volunteers to full-time workers.
Rogers said the agency has expanded services. "The funding made a true difference. It impacts our services to survivors to be able to provide critical services."
Arlene Schadel, county economic development coordinator, said she is a third general Phelps-Dodge baby and her husband recently retired from the mine. "The mines have provided a wonderful life for our families. We have had no medical issues even when the restrictions were not as strict. I visited the mines with the Environment Department. I couldn't believe how rigorous the inspections were. The company has been working tirelessly on the dump by Tyrone. I do not think the Environment Department would allow Freeport to do anything to impact our lives. We are indebted to Freeport for supporting jobs, schools and non-profits. I am proud to support Freeport."
Bruce Frederick, attorney representing GRIP, said those on the advisory committee heard that the agreement was one that did not allow water contamination above standards for statewide application. "Unless they got a variance, when we left, the advisory board had a draft with general application. It went from statewide application to a specific company—Freeport. Our biggest issue is the loss of the statewide application."
Sussillo asked that members of the Environment Department answer questions, and when told they had orders not to say anything other than their prepared presentation, he declared the meeting "a sham."
Felicia Orth, NMED hearing officer, adjourned the meetin