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Bisbee mine tour may remain open

There might still be hope for the popular Bisbee Queen Mine Tour, which seemed to be doomed after the company that owns the mine said it planned to terminate the tour’s operating lease.

Freeport-McMoran Copper & Gold said in a news release Tuesday that it will work with the city of Bisbee to evaluate the mine and find and implement ways to address safety issues, including increased radon levels, that could result in a new lease agreement that would keep the mine open for tours.

“Recently measured levels of radon indicate that tour employees who may have long-term exposures to elevated concentrations ... could be at risk,” the company said in its news release.

“Infrequent visitors to the mine, such as those who take the tour would not be affected.”

Last Friday, representatives from the company met with city officials to discuss their concerns and said a 60-day lease termination notice would be issued this week.

Bisbee Mayor Adriana Badal said the city is committed to doing whatever it takes to keep the mine open, citing its cultural and economic significance to the small town southeast of Tucson.

Mining is part of our culture and our community,” Badal said. “Mining has changed over the years … but we need to retain the history and we need to not act precipitously.”

The work schedules of employees of the mine tour, several of whom are former miners, have been changed to limit the number of hours spent in the mine, Badal said.

Badal sent a letter to Freeport-McMoran officials Monday asking the company to reconsider terminating the lease and work with the city to mitigate health and safety issues.

She has also requested a detailed list of all of the company’s concerns.

The Queen Mine closed in 1975, but part of it was reopened for tours in 1976. It has since become Bisbee’s most important tourist attraction.

Several tours are offered daily, which take tourists 1,500 feet underground and share mining history and techniques.

Last year, more than 43,000 people took the tour, and revenue from admission and merchandise sales was $538,000.

Contact reporter Veronica Cruz at vcruz@azstarnet.com or 573-4224.


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