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Mining Company Takes Local Law to Court

The operators of a proposed copper mine in Florence want a federal judge to void a new town law that would effectively thwart the project. 

The fight surrounds efforts by Curis Resources for what's called in-situ mining, pumping sulfuric acid into the ground where it dissolves the copper, then pumping it back out to reclaim the metal. The move has been opposed by Florence town officials among others, at least in part because of the proximity to the drinking water supply. But state environmental officials have given the preliminary go-ahead to a pilot project. So the town council did what deputy manager Jess Knudson says was within their power: They declared it a crime to have or use more than 50 gallons of sulfuric acid a month.

"State statutes identify a means for cities and towns to identify noxious or otherwise harmful material within our respective town boundaries and being able to limit or minimize the use of said materials," Knudson said.

Curis attorneys are telling the judge the fears are overblown, saying the acid will be no stronger than vinegar. But Knudson said that tells only part of the story.

"Curis Resources through the proposal has identified over the life of the full mining operation which they have proposed, they're looking at billions of gallons of sulfuric acid injected into the ground in the immediate proximity to the town's water supply," Knudson said.

State environmental officials say final approval of any permit will hinge on assurances there will be no effect on the water.