GLOBE - New copper production in the offing for this historic mining community is a microcosm of a new surge across the West.
Mining is hitting boom times.
Here it’s copper. In Nevada, Colorado, Idaho, Washington and Montana, it’s gold. Elsewhere it’s silver, molybdenum, uranium, even coal.
Fueled by demand for precious metals or other commodities, the high prices the minerals are suddenly commanding — or a combination of the two — projects that were on backburners for years are being dusted off or coming to fruition, and explorations are moving ahead in hopes of finding new deposits.
‘‘Certainly in Arizona, we’re seeing just about every old project that was existing coming out of the woodwork,’’ said Roger Featherstone of Earthworks, a nonprofit environmental organization that monitors the mining industry and promotes mining practices reform.
Roger Flynn, director of the Western Mining Action Project, a nonprofit law firm in Lyons, Colo., said fuel demand is pushing the drive for coal and boosting uranium exploration; prices are driving metals.
‘‘When prices go up, people want to start exploring,’’ said Flynn, who also is a mining law professor at the University of Wyoming and the University of Colorado.
Copper, which sold for 80 cents a pound in August 2003, has hovered recently between $2.20 and $2.30 a pound — fed by the demand from industrializing China and India. Gold shot through the $500-anounce barrier in November for the first time since 1987.
Silver, molybdenum and other industrial metals’ prices have been in record territory, too.
In east-central Arizona, construction is scheduled to begin on two new copper mines around midyear.
Quadra Mining Ltd. plans to start developing the Carlota open pit mine in the Globe-Miami area, and 90 miles east at Safford, Phelps Dodge Corp. will begin building a mine with two open pits each almost a mile in diameter.
In addition, Resolution Copper Co., a venture be- tween mining giants BHP Billiton of Australia and Londonbased Rio Tinto PLC, is working to develop a new underground mine within the next decade or so at Superior, 20 miles west of here.
Resolution hopes to get congressional approval to swap nearly 5,000 acres of conservation land in Arizona for 760 acres of the Tonto National Forest to circumvent an environmental review.
All three mines have been in various stages of planning for years, and all the new activity has a lot of local people pleased.
Brenda Justice, who operates a musical instrument store in Globe with her husband, said the new mine operations will be good for Miami, Globe and Superior, drawing a mix of young and middle-age workers.
Now, she said, there’s nothing to keep young people in town unless they’re part of a family business.
‘‘The mines that’ll bring people in, I think it’ll give new jobs and maybe new housing, we hope, so I think it would be a good thing for Miami, Globe and Superior for the mines to open around here,’’ Justice said.
Larry Griffin, business manager of Local 518 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers in Globe, said the developments will bring ‘‘a breath of fresh air.’’
‘‘It’s our mainstay, so it’ll be a real kick in the pants to have these mines up and running,’’ Griffin said.
Phelps Dodge’s board of directors gave the $550 million Safford project final approval Feb. 1.
It will pump about $42 million annually into the Graham County area, historically an agricultural community, said Kimball Hansen, a Phelps Dodge spokesman.
Once production begins in mid-2008, the mine should be active for 18 years, he said.
Jay Spehar, senior land agent in Miami for Phelps Dodge, said he doubts the unprecedented high prices were the decisive criterion, but rather demand for the metal as a wide-ranging hightech commodity.
But high prices at some point could persuade Phelps Dodge, which operates a rod plant and a smelter in Miami, to reopen its now-closed open pit operation in the area, Spehar said.
Quadra president Paul Blythe said his company will employ 400 to 500 construction workers and 250 to 300 permanent workers during its expected 11-year mining operation.
Quadra, based in Vancouver, British Columbia, acquired the 5,500-acre Carlota property in December from Cambior, a Canadian gold mining company.
Cambior spent nearly $70 million in exploration and permitting processes, fighting through environmentalists’ legal challenges, but never turned a shovelful of dirt.
Blythe said he and partner William Myckatyn in 2002 ‘‘took the view that the fundamentals of copper looked pretty good, because prices had been low for eight or nine years . . . and we were starting to hear rumblings of an emerging China and India.’’
The next year, Quadra bought the Robinson Mine in Ely, Nev., from BHP, shuttered four years earlier when prices were at just 60 cents a pound. Robinson now produces 75,000 tons of copper concentrate for smelting and 80,000 ounces of gold annually.
Carlota is expected to produce 66 million pounds of leached copper.
Development of the Resolution Mine about 15 miles west of Globe will be more gradual.
‘‘They make no bones . . . that the folks that they’re going to be hiring are probably in third grade right now,’’ said Mary Anne Moreno, executive director of the Globe-Miami regional chamber of commerce.
Those future workers will need strong computer skills to operate sophisticated technology with robotic applications, she said.