At last Wednesday night's Patagonia Town Council meeting on Wildcat Silver Corp.’s proposed Hermosa drilling project, the discussion was so calm and civil that I first wondered if I was actually attending a meeting on pet dogs. Then, I wondered if maybe it had been the two rainbows -- one very bright, another a bit faded -- that had towered over the town late that afternoon before the meeting started.
So afterward, I put that question to Patagonia resident Bob Misiourowski, who was standing in the back of the room at Patagonia Union High School. Why was the meeting so civil and almost surreal in its peacefulness, compared to most mine meetings I’ve ever sat through, particular those dealing with the Rosemont Mine up here in Tucson? (This exploratory project for a future silver mine is slated for the Patagonia Mountains, a few mile south of the town.)
“We have only 900 people in this town,” Misiourowski said, adding that everyone there knows everyone else and everyone talks to each other. That forces people to be more cordial and civil, he said.
Thursday, Brent Bowdon, the Patagonia contractor who is pushing for Town Council support of the drilling plan, as a way to learn about the mine’s potential threat to area water supplies, said in a phone interview that, “I like to think people are nicer down here.”
Then, he added that the proposed plan at issue isn’t nearly as controversial as Rosemont Copper’s proposed open pit copper mine in the Santa Rita Mountains.
“This is for a scientific study,” said Bowdon, whose D.M. Engineering and Excavation company is contracting with Wildcat Silver for exploration work at the Hermosa site. “I think a lot of people were there to raise heck. It didn’t work out that way. Go to the Coronado National Forest website, and it will tell you exactly what it’s all about.
“Twelve monitoring wells. 26 geotechnical holes. 10 mineral exploration holes. It’s just a little drilling project – it’s not a huge open pit mine plan of operations.”
The study that Patagonia contractor Bowdon was talking about – the drilling work that Wildcat Silver plans for the Patagonia Mountains – is precisely what’s at issue in this mining debate right now, however.
The debate is going to come down to, in part, a question of who will the town and ultimately, the Forest Service, trust: a study proposed by the Wildcat Silver company, or another version proposed by opponents?
In an email to Bowdpn written Tuesday night, Aug. 13, the night before the Town Council debate, consulting hydrogeologist Lucas Kingston, of Denver, laid out some of the purposes of Wildcat’s drilling work in its plan of operations, or PoO for short.
The investigation is designed to characterize “baseline” groundwater conditions – those existing today – such as the aquifer’s hydraulic properties, groundwater flow direction and groundwater quality, wrote Kingston, of NewFields LLC, an environmental consulting firm working for the Vancouver, B.C.-based Wildcat Silver and its subsidiary, Denver-based Arizona Minerals Inc.
The monitoring wells’ water depth measurements will let authorities determine groundwater flow direction, he wrote. Groundwater samples will show the area’s current groundwater quality, he said.
Continued, routine well sampling will let the company describe how groundwater quality varies during the seasons, he said. Aquifer testing, pumping the wells to see how the water levels respond, will help determine important aquifer properties showing its ability to transmit and store water, Kingston wrote.
“Permitting requires an understanding of project hydrogeology, an assessment of potential impacts as a result of planned mine activities, a plan to mitigate the potential impacts, and a plan for mine closure,” Kingston said. “The data collected during the PoO will allow us to characterize numerical groundwater models to predict potential impacts and develop mitigation and mine closure plans.”
Later, Bowdon sent us an email, saying< "It's not a mine drilling study plan, It is a plan of operations submitted to the USFS for permission to conduct a hydrology study, (a) geotechnical investigation, and a short minerals exploration program on the CNF.. I cannot stress this enough.... this is not for the extraction of any materials other than data required for the related study, there is no mining involved."
“We need a baseline metal test, to show what the water is like now, with its metal levels,” he said. “The most important thing we need to know is the rate of flow from Harshaw and Sonoita creeks – what’s the flow rate into the town groundwater wells.
“What they (Wildcat Silver) is doing is so far away from those wells, they really can’t do that kind of test,” he added. “If they are pulling out 700,000 gallons of water a day for the mine, at some point that will create a negative for the town, and we won’t get any more water supply out of Harshaw.
“I don’t know what kind of study it would take, but it needs testing closer to the town than what Wildcat is proposing, something that tells the flow rate,” he said. “We have no idea now what’s coming in, because there’s never been any reason to do this kind of testing.”