Any right to mine copper off W. Hunt Highway was “lost and abandoned” when the property was rezoned in 2007, the town of Florence argues in a new lawsuit against Florence Copper Inc.
Curis Resources acquired its more than 1,000 acres in 2009 at a cost of approximately $8.5 million, although it “knew, or should have known, at the time .... that mining on the property was illegal,” according to the town’s complaint last week in Pinal County Superior Court.
The company no longer goes by the name “Curis Resources,” and recently officially changed the name to Florence Copper Inc. A company spokesman explained it’s “easier for people to pronounce and understand what we are about.”
The town is seeking a declaratory judgment from the court that mining rights were terminated when Florence rezoned the property as a Planned Unit Development (“PUD”) at the request of the previous owner, developer W. Harrison Merrill.
The property was rezoned a second time in 2007, again at the request of Merrill, to amend the PUD to designate the Florence Copper property as exclusively residential, the town said in a prepared statement. The town is seeking the court’s declaration that in rezoning the property, Merrill abandoned any right to mine the property or maintain any nonconforming uses and structures related to mining.
If the court rejects this argument, the town seeks to condemn the property and take it by eminent domain. The town would have to pay just compensation for the land as determined by a judge or jury.
Florence Copper Vice President/General Manager Dan Johnson responded Monday with a prepared statement saying the town’s latest complaint won’t delay the company’s plans for a one- or two-year test run (or “Pilot Test Facility”) of the Florence Copper Project:
“The recent legal action by the town of Florence’s current political leadership follows a pattern of continuing ill-advised and costly legal harassment toward Florence Copper, preventing much needed local employment and revenue for the town and its residents.
“There are several important points to be made:
“• Florence Copper has never sought legal action against the town of Florence; it has only responded to actions taken by the town against it.
“• The location of Florence Copper has been identified as a copper deposit and operated as a mine site since the late 1960s.
“• Florence Copper is committed to protecting the environment. The lead Arizona agency responsible for protecting our precious water resources has issued a very stringent Aquifer Protection Permit (APP) to Florence Copper that fully protects local drinking water supplies. “• Florence Copper’s plans to move forward on its Pilot Test Facility is not impacted by the town’s lawsuit. We look forward to demonstrating the safety and economic viability of the project upon the issuance of the final environmental permit from the EPA.
“• The Florence Copper Project will create approximately 170 direct jobs at the site and hundreds of additional ancillary employment opportunities in Pinal County and the state of Arizona.
“• Florence Copper’s management team will continue to seek to find positive outcomes that benefit town residents and businesses alike.”
Last week’s suit comes after the Curis filed its own petition earlier this year arguing that its mining rights were “grandfathered” by continuous use of the property for mining-related activities.
Curis has been unable to persuade the town to rezone its property for industrial uses, and is planning to operate within a 160-acre rectangle of state trust land outside the town’s jurisdiction. But if the company needs to move facilities around to make this possible it has no right to do so, the town argues in its complaint:
“Curis has no right to expand or move any nonconforming uses or structures outside of the footprint of any such uses or structures as they existed at the time Merrill petitioned for and entered into the 2003 PADA (pre-annexation development agreement).”
The suit also names RK Mine Finance Trust 1, an Australian trust which holds a security interest in the Florence Copper property, and Pinal County.
“Defendant Pinal County is entitled to be paid any unpaid property taxes, including penalties and interest, from the proceeds of the eminent domain action,” the town’s complaint says.
The Town Council rejected Curis’ 2011 application for a General Plan Amendment on its property. In this application, Curis admits that any legal right to mine the property had been abandoned in 2007 upon the rezoning to residential, according to the town’s lawsuit.