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ADEQ announces settlement for cleanup of ASARCO mines

The Arizona Department of Environmental Quality announced a settlement with mining giant ASARCO for the cleanup of several contaminated sites and the protection of water resources.

The deal, for which ASARCO will pay about $30 million, will provide environmental remediation for the company’s abandoned Sacaton, Salero and Trench mines, and transfer about 1,000 acres of land along the San Pedro River to the Arizona Game and Fish Commission. The settlements were part of an 11-state agreement involving ASARCO, ADEQ, the State Land Department, the Game and Fish Department, state Attorney General’s Office, and the U.S. Departments of Justice and the Interior.

“This is a series of settlements over a period of years,” Cunningham said at the May 19 press conference where the settlement was announced.

Acting ADEQ Director Patrick Cunningham said the settlement will provide environmental cleanup for the contaminated sites while preserving 2,500 jobs at three other Arizona sites operated by ASARCO, which is undergoing bankruptcy proceedings. The goal of the settlement, Cunningham said, is to help ASARCO emerge from bankruptcy while compensating for damages to natural resources from decades of copper and molybdenum mining.

In an ADEQ press release, Gov. Jan Brewer touted the deal as protecting the environment and much needed jobs.

“We welcome both the environmental settlements which will preserve three parcels of land that are treasures along Arizona’s river system, and the big steps we take today to preserve Arizona jobs. The settlement today is indeed a win-win for Arizona’s natural resources and for Arizona’s economy as we emerge from a devastating economic downturn,” Brewer said in the press release.

Under the agreement, ASARCO will provide $23 million for the cleanup of its open-pit Sacaton mine, near Casa Grande, along with about $3 million for remediation at its Salero and Trench mines, near Patagonia. The company will also provide about $4 million for the restoration and maintenance of three parcels of land located along a four-mile stretch of the Lower San Pedro River, in order to safeguard water resources and protect wildlife in the area.

Cunningham said the cleanup may take as long as 30 years. Once the cleanup is completed, the trust that oversees the three sites can sell the land and put the money toward the cleanup of the other ASARCO sites, the company’s contaminated sites in 10 others states, or the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Superfund program.

The settlement also provides cleanup for ASARCO sites in Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma, Utah and Washington.

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