Editorial: Shadow of mining past still looms large for Verde Valley

Minerals Research, Inc.’s slag recovery project in Cottonwood. The project is expected to be completed in 15-20 years. (VVN/Vyto Starinskas)

Minerals Research, Inc.’s slag recovery project in Cottonwood. The project is expected to be completed in 15-20 years. (VVN/Vyto Starinskas)

You can never undo the past. The toxic reminders of the Verde Valley’s mining history offer ample evidence of that adage.

We still have two massive molten slag piles in the Verde Valley. Cottonwood’s Minerals Research, Inc., has found a way to turn a dollar from the slag pile near the Verde Valley Fairgrounds through harvesting and recycling the old smelting residue for roofing, abrasives, and asphalt material.

In what amounted to an out-of-sight, out-of-mind solution, the former Tuzigoot tailings pond is no longer a visible eyesore for the Verde Valley, but it’s still there underground. Just before Phelps Dodge was sold for $25.6 billion in late 2006, the company -- after 50 years of debate – finally addressed the capping and remediation of the tailings at Tuzigoot as well as the mining waste from the Hopewell smelter and other refuse above Allen Springs Road in the Black Hills. It was all done in total compliance with ADEQ and EPA standards. The tailings treatment, called evapotranspiration, prevents rainwater from leaching though the tailings, and instead evaporate into the air. The former 125-acre orange scar of land now is a canvas of green grass.

Now, Phelps Dodge’s corporate successor, Freeport Minerals Corp., has embarked on a soil remediation program for Clarkdale. What initially began as a testing area for Upper and Lower Clarkdale and Patio Park has now expanded to include the Mountain Gate, Centerville, Palisades and Panorama neighborhoods.

One can’t help but wonder if the expansion boundaries for this project will eventually include much of the entire Verde Valley. Our own local history tells how the Verde Valley farming industry – even extending into Camp Verde – died because of the smelter fallout first in Jerome and later in Clarkdale.

The “Tree of Heaven/Paradise Trees” that abound throughout the Upper Verde were part of a “re-greening” of the Verde Valley by Phelps Dodge when mining operations ceased in the 1950s. Ironically, the trees – native to China and Taiwan and known to grow in even the most undesirable soil – are now considered an invasive threat to the Verde Watershed. Most certainly, they are a major annoyance to those who have them on their property.

It’s not out of the realm of possibility that this soil remediation project will one day expand into Jerome, Old Town Cottonwood and beyond.

All of which proves the mining industry to be one of the most reliable employers in American history.

All the work they did 100 years ago continues to create jobs for them today.

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