Proposed mining water transfer irks Mohave County leaders

They say public's concerns being ignored

KINGMAN - A plan to transfer water from the Planet Ranch area for Freeport Mineral's mining operations will harm Mohave and La Paz counties' future growth and economic development, Supervisor Steve Moss said in a Sept. 24 letter to the U.S. Department of Interior.

In the short term, the action will reduce both counties' tax base, Moss said in the tersely written letter to Terrence Fulp, regional director of the Interior Department.

Both counties oppose the plan because they have relatively little private land subject to taxation and both struggle with water resources, Moss said. Also, no public or private agency has offered any suggestion to mitigate the harm.

"It seems like everyone's concerns are being addressed except those of Mohave and La Paz counties, the representatives of the local taxpayers," Moss said.

Most troubling, he said, is an agreement that gives the Hualapai Indian tribe options to purchase land in Mohave County, further dwarfing land initially being removed from private ownership. The land is along the proposed Interstate 11 corridor, which has enormous potential value for economic growth.

In 2010, the Mohave County Board of Supervisors sent a letter to the Arizona Department of Water Resources objecting to the proposed water transfer from Planet Ranch to Freeport's mine in the town of Bagdad.

Planet Ranch, about 20 miles east of Parker, straddles Mohave and La Paz counties with about 8,400 acres.

Freeport purchased the land in 2008 for $10.2 million and planned to transfer water from the ranch to its well field near Wikieup.

Freeport provided written assurances that it would engage with Mohave County officials and failed to do so, Moss said. Mohave County's objections to the plan were overruled.

"It is amazing that Freeport delayed its application for years, but was able to resurrect it and impose a fast-track process to the detriment of the counties," Moss said.

This required the Arizona Department of Water Resources, under director Sandra Febritz-Whitney, to grant several extensions in order to preserve Freeport's business plan.

What troubles Moss is that Febritz-Whitney is now employed by Freeport. He questioned the true "independence" of Arizona water department's determination that Mohave County has no standing in opposing the plan.

"This is troubling as it appears that Mohave County's substantive concerns are being dismissed out of hand as not being worthy of thought or action, other than the occasional platitude," Moss stated in his letter.