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Geological Survey, mines department complement each other

Lee Allison (file photo)

Lee Allison (file photo)

On Jan. 21, the Arizona Department of Mines and Mineral Resources shut down operations when it ran out of money.

However, the mines department’s governing board transferred custody of the department’s files and physical resources to the Arizona Geological Survey for one year, or until the Legislature takes further action, such as approving Gov. Jan Brewer’s proposal to consolidate the two agencies.

Pending the Legislature’s decision, the Geological Survey has committed to keeping the doors open to the mines department’s offices in Phoenix and maintaining public access to the agency’s extensive records, maps and reports, at least through the end of the fiscal year on June 30.

Madan Singh, mines department director, retired on Jan. 21. All the other mines department staff members accepted offers of employment with the Geological Survey, and they were transferred without interruption of their work.

The Geological Survey did not assume the statutory duties of the mines department, nor is this a merger of the agencies. The mines department continues to exist in statute, and its governing board is responsible for the department’s assets and its remaining funds. The Geological Survey will report regularly to the governing board on its custodianship.

The statutory duties of the mines department and the Geological Survey are complementary, and the survey’s mission is written broadly enough that we all think we can continue to meet the needs of the residents, agencies and businesses of Arizona with regard to the mines department’s assets, both physical and intellectual.

The mines department holds the state’s most extensive collection of historical and technical mine and mineral resource files, including many from now-defunct companies or personal libraries. They are irreplaceable.

And while these files are invaluable to the small-mine operator, as recent newspaper reports emphasized, they also are heavily used by many others, including government agencies, the bigger companies that have not worked in Arizona and a variety of landowners.

The mines department also provides the Arizona Corporation Commission and the Attorney General’s Office with solid engineering and economic evaluations on the issuance and sale of mining securities. For years, the selling of phony mining stock has been a favorite of scammers and con artists.

The mines department’s customers also include other state and federal agencies, which need reliable information about mining projects to answer the inevitable questions about economic, planning and environmental impacts.

Over the past three years, the Geological Survey has grown because of our success in bringing in external funds to defray the cost of our work, which the state can no longer fully pay for. We have a stable funding base, ample infrastructure and a support staff that we can bring to the consolidated agencies.  The resulting economies of scale promise better service to our customers and stakeholders at a lower cost.

I am confident that we will come out with an agency that can better meet the needs of all of our constituents, whether they are weekend miners or the world’s largest producers, as well as the range of federal and state land management agencies, environmental organizations, and the public.

— M. Lee Allison is the state geologist and director of the Arizona Geological Survey.

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