USFS, Drake Cement address possible pozzolan mining in Parks
PARKS, Ariz — Residents in Parks are continuing their fight to keep pozzolan mining out of their backyard.
Several hundred residents turned out for a second community meeting, which included an opportunity to ask representatives from Kaibab National Forest about their options for keeping mining out of the Spring Valley area of the Parks community.
Drake Cement, LLC has recorded and placed lode and placer claims totaling around 1,068 acres on the Kaibab National Forest near Government Hill in the Spring Valley area of Parks, and a small cluster of claims on approximately 348 acres south of Hardy Hill.
The company out of Paulden, Arizona, mines pozzolan as an additive for concrete. It is found in deposits of volcanic tuff, a glassy, igneous rock formed when deposits of volcanic ash compress under pressure over time.
Although Drake Cement has placed claims, the company has not submitted a formal proposal to mine in the Spring Valley and Hardy Hills area, according to Kaibab National Forest Supervisor Nicole Branton.
“I’ll try to explain a little bit about the role of the Forest Service, although I won’t be able to talk about any plans,” Branton said. “I’ll try to make our process a little clearer for you all.”
Branton said the only active mine in Kaibab National Forest is Drake's current pozzolan mine at Frenchy Pit. She said the forest is also looking at Drake Cement’s proposal for exploration of pozzolan on Bill Williams Mountain.
“It is not for mine development, it is for exploration of the pozzolan deposits,” Branton clarified. “We started the analysis of this last year and we’ve been working through an environmental analysis. And you all know, there’s another set of claims here in Spring Valley and Willow Springs (Hardy Hill).”
Branton said the U.S. Forest Service has several roles as it relates to minerals. Any areas of the National Forest that have not been explicitly withdrawn from mineral development, which have to be done by the Secretary of the Interior, are available for mineral extraction.
“We have a responsibility to determine the nature of (the) deposits,” she said. “There are two classes of types of minerals…one is locatable and the other is saleable.”
Branton said the Forest Service has limited discretion when it comes to locatable minerals, such as gold and copper, but has more discretion when it comes to saleable minerals such as gravel and sand.
Once the Forest Service receives a formal proposal to mine, the agency considers the environmental effects.
“You may be familiar with the National Environmental Policy Act, which we call NEPA,” Branton said. “The Forest Service has to consider the environmental effects and, as much as possible, mitigate those effects. So the NEPA process is a robust public process.”
Branton encouraged the public to participate in the process and said the agency saves every email and letter.
“We consider public comments, we’re noting the environmental conditions you’ve (already) pointed out,” she said.
Branton also said that if a proposal is submitted, the analysis is complex and can take time to process. The proposal for exploration on Bill Williams Mountain was submitted in January 2022 and is still under review.
“It’s a matter of months, sometimes years,” she said. “It’s a really complex analysis.”
Brian Hughes, the founder of the group Save Parks AZ, spoke at the meeting and gave an update on the group's outreach efforts to stop any mining in the Parks community. He said the group was aware that no formal mining application had been filed by Drake and explained that mining claims are a preliminary part of a potential process.
“This is not the right area for this mining operation,” Hughes told the group. “Not only the watershed, but the impact on the residents.”
Hughes said he had received a call from Arizona State Attorney Kris Mayes who has filed a preliminary injunction to stop a proposed sand and gravel mine planned for a Chino Valley neighborhood. The injunction, which was filed late last week, says the attorney general has the authority to prevent a public nuisance.
“That mining operation is similar to what we could see, but a little different,” Hughes said. “She is backing the residents, and said her office would be on standby. I told her I would keep her informed of the situation.”
Troy Arnold, an environmental investigator with the State of Arizona Attorney General’s Office was in attendance at the Park's meeting.
Drake Cement response
David Chavez, a representative of Drake Cement responded to questions from the Williams News, with a statement. He said he wanted to emphasize that Drake has placed claims around the area, in keeping with federal law.
“If we receive approval from the U.S. Forest Service, we intend to conduct explorations for pozzolan on small portions of some of these sites to analyze their mineral content. If Drake later moves forward to mine at any of the sites, it would be in keeping with federal law and by following the public process the USFS requires,” he said. “Any mining activity, if it ever happens, is almost certainly years in the future.”
Chavez said he wanted to clarify that Drake considers their impacts on the community and takes social responsibility seriously.
“It’s clear from your questions and some of the feedback we’ve received that residents have concerns about Drake trucking mined materials through Parks,” Chavez said. “Put simply, that will not happen. Drake is 100 percent committed to finding routes to our Paulden plant that do not involve traveling on Spring Valley Road. That worry is unfounded.”
Chavez said fears about dust impacting residents and about Drake somehow poisoning the area watershed, are also unfounded.
“If we mine in the area, dust will not be an issue given the comprehensive dust control systems we will have in place,” he said. “No water wells will be drilled at this site. That will prevent pozzolan — a substance already in the ground in the area — from somehow ‘seeping’ into the water supply. Nor will ‘water quality be impacted for millions of people.’”
Chavez said the company recognizes their ability to operate successfully is connected to their performance as responsible corporate citizens.
“Should we ever conduct a mining operation in the areas where we are currently exploring claims, we will do so in ways that mitigate any impact on residents, and in a manner that minimizes any potential effect on quality of life,” he said.
Ron Smith, a retired chemistry teacher, spoke at the Park's meeting about what pozzolan is and how it impacts the environment.
“I feel like I’m the bearer of bad news, but you guys have to know this,” he said. “The effects on the environment are going to be horrendous. I have no idea what it's going to do to the spotted owl. I have no idea what it's going to do to the watershed.”
Every chemical that is sold or produced has to have a (Safety Data Sheet),” he said. “Pozzolan is a skin and eye irritant and it affects the respiratory system.”
Smith said crushing of pozzolan will produce large quantities of dust.
“That can react with your lungs, and it stays here, it doesn’t come up,” he said. “When handling this substance, you have to wear goggles, gloves and a respirator.”
He said that every chemical that makes up pozzolan has a hazard rating.
“Which means that with repeated exposure, damage can occur to your organs,” he said. “It’s not advisable to breathe the dust.”