Today, Congressman Paul A. Gosar, D.D.S. (AZ-04) released the following statement after the National Park Service listed the public campground in Pinal County, Arizona, known as Oak Flat, in the National Register of Historic Places late Friday night, despite multiple bipartisan requests to withdraw the fundamentally-flawed nomination:
“Shame on the Park Service and Forest Service for ramming a bogus historic place listing down the throats of Arizonans. Clearly, the Obama Administration cares more about pandering to extremist environmental groups and a D.C. lobbyist from the Clinton Administration than following the law and listening to the American public. Oak Flat has never been a sacred site, as confirmed by the local tribe’s own former historian. Yet, Obama’s minions are hell-bent on sabotaging an important mining effort by listing a small, public campground 20 miles away from the nearest tribe’s reservation as a historic site.
“The agency’s attempt to silence public comments through deceptive notices and short comment periods is outrageous and inexcusable. Neighboring tribal members who have seen unemployment numbers as high as 70%, a Superior community in dire need of good-paying jobs and Americans throughout the country all need this important mining project. A bipartisan Congress and the president have declared the land exchange for this copper mine to be the law of the land. That should have been the end of it. But blatantly deceitful collaboration that ignores the Rule of Law cannot be tolerated. This fraudulent action is the latest in a long list of egregious bureaucratic abuses of power by the Obama Administration. I will continue to fight this overreach.”
Oak Flat is currently on Forest Service land and is slated to be transferred to a private mining company as part of the bipartisan Southeast Arizona Land Exchange and Conservation Act signed into public law in December 2014. Environmental groups, a D.C. lobbyist from the Clinton Administration and other mining opponents encouraged the Forest Service and National Park Service to list the Oak Flat Campground as a historical site in a deceitful attempt to quietly undermine the copper project. More information about the bipartisan Southeast Arizona Land Exchange that will create 3,700 new jobs, generate 60 billion dollars for Arizona’s economy, provide 25% of the United States’ copper supply and be the largest copper mine in North America can be found HERE.
Given the repeated lack of detail and lack of notice at every stage of filing it was nearly impossible for Arizonans who may be affected by this misguided designation to participate in the public comment process. The agency repeatedly withheld and redacted important locational data and other information associated with this nomination. After finally identifying the land being nominated as “Oak Flats” on February 29, 2016, the Park Service allowed less than five business days to comment before closing the comment period. To make matters worse, people in Arizona could still have been trying to comment when the Park Service informed Congressman Gosar and others at 3:59 PM Mountain Standard Time on March 4 that they were going to list the property. There was no COB or Eastern Standard Time cutoff in the comment period instructions which stated “all comments should be submitted on or before March 4, 2016.” Clearly, any comments made March 4th were likely not considered.
The Park Service has stated that historic properties can “be modified or even destroyed” and the mining company involved has stated that a “historic designation would not necessarily prevent the company from mining the land.” However, this historic site listing could postpone job creation and cause further delays to an already lengthy NEPA process which was recently estimated to take 1,709 days on average.
Representatives Gosar and Ann Kirkpatrick (D-AZ) requested the Park Service formally withdraw the nomination of “Oak Flat” from consideration for listing as a historic site on three different occasions.
The first letter Representatives Gosar and Kirkpatrick sent pointing out critical flaws with the application and asking for withdrawal of this nomination was sent on June 26, 2015. The letter resulted in the Park Service returning the flawed June nomination to the Forest Service for “some technical corrections”. Click HERE to read the entire first letter.
Many members of the San Carlos Tribe admit the land in question is not sacred. Dale Miles, a member of the San Carlos Tribe and the former tribal historian, stated in a July, 2015 op-ed pointing out that the Oak Flat campground has never been a sacred site: “There has not been a long history of ceremonial or cultural activities such as Sunrise or Holy Ground ceremonies taking place at Oak Flat…the thought of having such a ceremony at Oak Flat, far from the support of relatives, clan members and friends in the San Carlos tribal area is almost unthinkable.”
Last week, House Oversight and Government Reform Committee leaders including Chairman Jason Chaffetz, Subcommittee Chairwoman Cynthia Lummis and Vice Subcommittee Chairman Gosar sent letters requesting documentation related to the process for listing Oak Flat as a national historic site.
The full letter to Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack can be found HERE and the letter to Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior, Sally Jewell can be found HERE.
On February 4, 2016, The Daily Caller News Foundation featured a report on the second letter Congressman Gosar and Kirkpatrick sent to the Park Service. Click HERE to read more.
The Southeast Arizona Land Exchange, signed into public law in December 2014 is consistent with important tribal cultural protection laws including: the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, the Archeological Resources Protection Act, and the American Indian Religious Freedom Act. Further, the Forest Service conducted a comprehensive study in 2010 and released a Finding of No Significant Impact for the exchange stating, “The selected action will not cause loss or destruction of significant scientific, cultural or historical resources.” It is also worth noting that some of the protesters who currently have a tent and other items on the campground have not paid their permit fees or moved from the site after 14 days of use as the Forest Service requires for other campers.