STATEMENTS ON INTRODUCED BILLS AND JOINT RESOLUTIONS -- (Senate - July 24, 2007)
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Mr. KYL. Mr. President, I rise today to introduce the Southeast Arizona Land Exchange and Conservation Act of 2007. This bill facilitates an important land exchange in Arizona that will provide for the acquisition and protection of environmentally sensitive lands while providing a much needed economic engine for the people of Superior, AZ, and the surrounding communities. I am pleased to be joined by Senator McCain as an original cosponsor of this bill.
This is not the first time Senator McCain and I have introduced this land exchange legislation. In 2005, we introduced S. 1122. S. 1122 was later modified and reintroduced in 2006 as S. 2466. S. 2466, as introduced, reflected the painstaking negotiated compromises and public feedback that we received with respect to the bill. S. 2466 had a favorable hearing before the Subcommittee on Forests and Public Lands in the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources in May 2006. At that hearing, both the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management testified in support of the bill. The bill, however, was not enacted in the last Congress. I am pleased to say we are back again this year with a bill that includes some new provisions based on the work of the stakeholders to continue to improve the bill.
The exchange facilitates the conveyance to Resolution Copper of approximately 3,025 acres of National Forest System land, 3 miles outside of Superior, Arizona in the historic Pioneer Mining District. The acreage commonly called ``Oak Flat'' would be traded to Resolution Copper to facilitate future exploration, and possible development, of what may be one of the largest deposits of copper ore ever discovered in North America. The 3,025 acres of Federal lands are intermingled with, or lie next to, private lands already owned by Resolution Copper, and are located south and east of Resolution's existing underground Magma copper mine. Approximately 75 percent of the Federal land is already blanketed by federally authorized mining claims owned by Resolution Copper that give it the right to explore and develop the minerals. Given the intermingled ownership, the public safety issues that may be associated with mining activities, and the significant financial investment Resolution Copper must make to even determine whether development of a mine is feasible, it makes sense, for Resolution Copper to own the entire Oak Flat area.
However, we also recognize that there are public impacts associated with transferring Oak Flat out of federal ownership. This bill goes far in addressing these impacts. Let me explain. First, the land exchange is conditioned on the execution of a permanent conservation easement to protect Apache Leap, a spectacular cliff area rich in cultural history on the western side of the Federal parcel. Although the conservation easement has been a feature in this bill since it was first introduced, we have expanded and strengthened the protections required by the easement. The easement will now apply to the entire Apache Leap escarpment totaling approximately 695 acres up from the 562 acres that were protected in the original bill. To address concerns that were raised that the mining operation might still affect the area, the conservation easement will not just prohibit surface development, it will also prohibit commercial mineral extraction under the easement area. In addition, the exchange includes a fund endowment for the implementation of the terms of the conservation easement.
The Oak Flat Campground, consisting of 16 rustic tent/RV sites, is located on the north side of the parcel, adjacent to U.S. Highway 60. Recognizing that the campground is used by the community and others, we are requiring that this campground be replaced on the Globe Ranger District at Resolution Copper's expense. Public access to this campground will not immediately terminate on enactment of the legislation: The bill stipulates continued public access to the campground for two years after enactment.
We also heard from the public that climbing and bouldering are important recreational resources at Oak Flat. For this reason, we included a placeholder in S. 1122 for additional climbing provisions as a good faith offer to the climbing community to work with us and Resolution Copper to address the loss of public access to climbing at Oak Flat in a way that would not compromise public safety. A compromise was reached by the stakeholders to continue temporary interim access to some climbing at Oak Flat; and execute a license between Resolution Copper and Access Fund, a national advocacy climbing organization, to allow climbers to gain access to popular climbing sites located on Resolution Copper's private land. This compromise along with the discovery of ``Tamo,'' a climbing gem in the Tam O'Shanter Mountains, which is slated to become Arizona's newest State park, are examples of how parties coming together can turn an unfortunate situation into a win-win.
We had hoped we would be able to make a similar announcement with regard to the cultural resource concerns that were raised by the San Carlos Apache Tribe in May of last year. Unfortunately, that is not the case. I am still hopeful, however, and I will continue to reach out to the Yavapai and Apache tribes as this bill moves through the legislative process.
In return for conveying the Federal land to Resolution Copper, the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management will receive eight parcels of private land, totaling 4,583 acres plus $7.5 million to be placed in a trust account to be expended by the United States on additional conservation lands in Arizona. The parcels included in this bill have been identified, and are strongly endorsed for acquisition by the Arizona Audubon Society, Nature Conservancy, Trust for Public Land, Sonoran Institute, Arizona Game and Fish Department, and numerous others. They include lands along the San Pedro River, an important internationally recognized migratory bird corridor, riparian and wetland habitat for threatened and endangered animal and plant species, including the southwestern willow flycatcher and the hedgehog cactus, and magnificent canyons and forests that are home to big game species. Most of the parcels are in holdings whose acquisition will enable more effective management of the federal land. It is in the public interest to bring these conservation lands into Federal ownership for the enjoyment of future generations.
Although the focus of this bill is the land exchange between Resolution Copper and the U.S., it also includes provisions allowing for the conveyance of Federal lands to the town of Superior. These lands include the town cemetery, lands around the town airport, and a Federal reversionary interest that exists at the airport site. These lands are included in the proposed exchange to help the town to provide its municipal needs and expand and diversify its economic development.
Though I have described the many benefits of and the important compromises that are part of this exchange, you may be asking why we are legislating this land exchange. Why not use the existing administrative land exchange process? The answer is that this exchange can only be accomplished legislatively because the Forest Service does not have the authority to convey away Federal lands in order to acquire other lands outside the boundaries of the National Forest System, no matter how ecologically valuable.
This bill contains procedural safeguards and conditions that ensure it is an equal value exchange in the public interest. I will highlight some of those safeguards: First, it requires that all appraisals of the lands must follow standard federal practice and be performed in accordance with appraisal standards promulgated by the U.S. Department of Justice. All appraisals must also be formally reviewed, and approved, by the Secretary of Agriculture. Second, to ensure the Federal Government gets full value for the Federal parcel it is giving up, the Federal parcel will be appraised to include the minerals and appraised as if unencumbered by the private mining claims that detract from the fair market value of the land. These are important provisions not required by federal law. They are especially significant given that over 75 percent of the Federal parcel is covered by mining claims owned by Resolution Copper and the bulk of the value of the Federal parcel is expected to be the minerals. Third, the Apache Leap conservation easement is expressly excluded from the valuation of the Federal land, preventing any possibility that this easement would devalue the Federal land. By following standard appraisal practices and including these additional safeguards in the valuation process, the U.S., and ultimately the taxpayer, will receive full fair market value for both the land and the minerals it contains.
With this land exchange we can preserve lands that advance the important public objectives of protecting wildlife habitat, cultural resources, the watershed, and aesthetic values, while generating economic, recreation, and employment opportunities for state and local residents. I hope we approve the legislation at the earliest possible date. It is a winning scenario for our environment and our economy.