Oak Flat Land Exchange On Schedule To Be Finalized In December

Nov 24, 2020

A controversial federal land exchange to build a copper mine on the Tonto National Forest could take place a year ahead of schedule. It’s one of several expected federal acts during the final weeks of the Trump administration. KNAU’s Ryan Heinsius reports.

Oak Flat on the Tonto National Forest is part of a proposed land exchange between the federal government and Resolution Copper to build one of the largest copper mines in the country. But it's also sacred to the San Carlos Apache Tribe, who have gathered medicinal plants and used the area for coming-of-age ceremonies for centuries.
Credit Ryan Heinsius / KNAU

The final environmental impact statement for the mine and land swap at Oak Flat was scheduled to be completed in December 2021. But earlier this year, that was bumped up to next month. According to a Tonto spokesperson, the timeline is only an estimate and work on the statement and a land appraisal didn’t take as long as anticipated.

Sixty days after the statement is published nearly 2,500 acres of Oak Flat would be turned over to Resolution Copper, part of the global mining group Rio Tinto. The company plans one of the largest copper mines in the U.S. at 11 square miles, reaching 7,000 feet below the surface.

But the San Carlos Apache Tribe for centuries has harvested medicinal plants and conducted coming-of-age ceremonies at Oak Flat. The mine is expected to destroy the sacred site and its desert ecosystem.

Apache Stronghold, a group made up of tribal members, along with other conservationists, has fought the project for years. They see the revised timeline as a way to ensure the land swap is finalized before President Trump leaves office in January.

The Tonto expects to submit its final environmental impact statement by mid-December.