The Tonto National Forest is moving ahead with a controversial federal land exchange. KNAU’s Ryan Heinsius reports, it would pave the way for one of nation’s largest copper mines slated for an Apache sacred site.
Tonto officials released the final environmental impact statement for the project at Oak Flat last month, which triggered a 45-day objection period that ends March 1. It’s one of the final official steps in the process of turning over the Oak Flat area to the international mining giant Rio Tinto for its Resolution Copper Mine.
It follows a federal lawsuit filed by the group Apache Stronghold against the U.S. Forest Service to stop the land exchange. A judge is also considering a separate injunction filed by the group that would halt the swap while the suit is being heard. A ruling on the injunction is expected Friday.
Apache Stronghold and environmentalists have fought the project for years. They say it would destroy the sacred site at Oak Flat and have detrimental effects on local groundwater and the environment.
Rio Tinto, however, says it’s committed to supporting programs that protect Native American cultural heritage while diversifying the local economy.