KINGMAN - The U.S. House of Representatives unanimously passed the Bill Williams River Water Settlement Act on Monday, just hours after the Mohave County Board of Supervisors adjourned into executive session to discuss opposition to the bill.
The board believes the legislation, as currently drafted, may result in "deterioration of Mohave County's position" through steady and incremental reduction in the amount of private property available for development.
The board adopted a resolution opposing the legislation, and will send a letter to Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., who introduced the bill in June. Copies of the letter will also be sent to Arizona's congressional delegation.
"It's horrifically bad for Mohave County," Supervisor Steven Moss told the Daily Miner Tuesday. "In 2010, Freeport and Rep. Gosar both acknowledged it was bad for Mohave County."
Gosar said the purpose of his legislation is to achieve a fair and equitable settlement of water claims within the Bill Williams River watershed among the Hualapai Tribe, U.S. Department of the Interior, Arizona Game and Fish Commission and Freeport McMoRan Minerals Corp.
Freeport owns the Bagdad mine in Yavapai County and wants to transfer water rights from the Wikieup well fields in Mohave County to expand its mining operation.
Gosar's legislation allows for private water rights owned by Freeport to be severed and transferred to provide water certainty for the company's mine.
He said it's good for private property owners, good for local and county economies, and settles a water rights dispute that will result in net water benefit to the region.
"This settlement is a big win for Arizona as a key mine will continue to employ thousands of workers and a water rights dispute is resolved without taxpayer money," Gosar said in a statement. "Additionally, the Hualapai Tribe resolves certain water rights claims, Mohave County gains additional public land access for hunting and fishing, as well as benefiting from good-paying jobs and tax revenue associated with continued use of the Bagdad mine."
An economic analysis from W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University found that the associated impact from the Bagdad mine on Mohave County's economy is about $16 million and 175 jobs.
Moss said Freeport has never provided backup material showing the economic benefits for Mohave County, and said he's unfamiliar with any Bagdad mine worker who lives in Mohave County.
The agreement will benefit water users throughout the West, Gosar said, as Freeport has agreed to cap its withdrawals of water in the Wikieup well field at 10,055 acre-feet, despite being entitled to nearly 40,000 acre feet of existing water rights.
Gosar can spin his legislation however he wants, Moss said, but that's still 10,000 acre-feet of water being drawn from private land in Mohave County. It's enough to support 20,000 new homes.
"Freeport is not acting altruistically here. They're a multinational company who's profit-driven," Moss said.
Gosar promised that Mohave County would be included in talks with Freeport, but county officials were never contacted, Moss said. The company sat down with state and tribal officials, Arizona Game and Fish, Bureau of Reclamation and other agencies, but never reached out to take care of Mohave County's concerns, he said.
Mohave County supervisors objected to the transfer of water rights within Planet Ranch and Lincoln Ranch along the Bill Williams River, but an administrative law judge dismissed those concerns. Supervisors voted unanimously Monday to appeal that ruling.
Under the agreement, Freeport will donate 3,400 acres of private land to the Arizona Game and Fish Department to be managed as part of the Multi-Species Conservation Program.
The second part of the agreement will secure certain water rights for the Hualapai Tribe as well as contributions provided by Freeport for infrastructure and economic development.
There is also a provision that will allow for new public access for hunting and fishing.