Last month, a court decision allowed a copper mine to swallow the Arizona site. Now the Department of Agriculture has suspended the construction work.
by Massimo Introvigne
On February 20, Bitter Winter publicized the story of Oak Flat, in Arizona, called by the Apaches Chi’chil Bildagoteel, and regarded as one of their sacred sites. This site is destined to disappear as a consequence of a land swap opening the way to one of the larger copper mines in the world, which will “swallow” Oak Flat.
As we reported, an Arizona federal judge in February expressed his sympathy for the Apaches, but said that “his hands were tied” by existing legislation and a vote by the Congress, and ordered work to commence on March 6.
The story did not end there, however. This week, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) decided to withdraw its Final Environmental Impact Statement, which it had released on January 15, 2021, and which was crucial for authorizing the copper mine project to go on.
The USDA explicitly mentioned that, “The project is proposed on Oak Flat, a site sacred to numerous Federally Recognized Tribes in the Southwest.” It stated that “additional time is necessary to fully understand concerns raised by Tribes and the public and the project’s impacts to these important resources and ensure the agency’s compliance with federal law,” and that the assessment will need “several months.”
Although the USDA warned that, “long term protection of the site will likely require an act of Congress,” tribal representatives and religious liberty activists cheered its decision. On the opposite side, Arizona governor Doug Ducey said he was “extremely disappointed” about the possibility that the copper mine project, that he expects to contribute $1 billion to Arizona economy, may be stopped.