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Published:November 28th, 2009 19:00 EST
Arizona - The Young Prospector

Arizona - The Young Prospector

By Clayton S. Jeppsen

For centuries man has intuitively entered the Earth`s core in search of that prolific find, whether it is metal, a rare gem, or phosphate fuel. The sensation of discovery will forever entice the natural man. In the West, states like Arizona, have watched their birth rights come from the mouths of these mines. But in the most recent century, legitimate concerns have been raised regarding the manner in which these resources are extracted or the potential threats they pose. From the miner who smears his brow black to the politician who twitters from his blackberry, passionate debates over mining echo through communities across America. Who is right? Who is wrong? When the dust settles and the bull stumble back to the gate, it is the matador we applaud, he who risks his life. It is he to whom we lend our ear. Day in and day out, our mining families have left their trails of blood, sweat and tears. Those trails remain etched into our history and are the bulwark of American ingenuity. So let`s discuss the sacrifices, individual and collective.


           Individual sacrifices of the miner and his family for the advancement of the greater good do not go unrecorded. This is the case for the following story. Ruth Kasich is the wife of career miner Michaela Katich, an immigrant Serb during the time of the Great Depression. Michailo promptly went to work for the Civilian Conservation Corps in Superior Arizona where he met Ruth Katich, his future wife and mother of their five girls. Michailo was then transferred to San Manuel where he helped build the largest underground copper mine in the world at 2000 hectares, which is equivalent to 5000 acres. 


           In August of 2009, I conducted an interview with Ruth Katich, Michailo is no longer alive. I found out that the towns of San Manuel, Oracle and Mammoth were company owned towns. Ruth said that the Magma Copper Company built the towns basically from scratch. She said Magma owned all the homes and rented them to the workers at $78.00 a month. She said Magma built storehouses, churches and schools. With five girls in school, Ruth was amused at the arrangements. The elementary school was brand new, junior high was held in new army barracks until they could finish the building and high school students were bussed 35 miles to the town of Florence. I asked Ruth what she likes about living in the mining town. She recounted the details as if she were there now. Everything was new, she said. People were friendly with many things in common. We all worked for the same company, we all had the same benefits and got all the holidays off. Ruth went on to canonize the lifestyle, there was never any crime. Besides the death of a young teenage girl who was accidentally shot in the back of a pick-up truck. It was a nice community, an active community. Everyone attended the town meetings. It was a great place to raise a family. "


            I asked her what her duties were. I couldn`t see her because our interview occurred over the phone but I`m sure she puffed out her chest at this moment, with the attitude of "Back then us girls took care of our men`. She said she was up every morning at 4:30. She laid out Michailo`s freshly washed coveralls. She cooked Michailo a warm breakfast and sent him off with hot coffee in a thermos and a full lunch box. Then she got her five girls ready for school. When Michailo came home she had a multicourse dinner ready and started his laundry. And we did it all again the next day. She flaunted.


            Ruth said the work was hard on Michailo, but he became a supervisor shift foreman. His crew was known to be the safest crew underground. But despite that title Michailo still lost a finger in the haphazardness of a lemonhead. Lemonhead were the newbie`s. They were given yellow hard hats until the proved they were safe, and then they graduated to a white hard hat. Michailo went on to lead the Mine`s safety program where he won many awards and traveled around the state giving seminars on mine safety. The Magma Copper mine to this day holds the record for the least work related accidents of all the mines. However, Ruth recounted the sad tale of her neighbor, Tim Marshal who`d been crushed in a collapse. I could hear his dear wife Bobby crying sometimes. It was really bad when she would do it on the front porch, almost as if she was waiting for him to come home from work. I felt guilty sometimes wrapping my arms around Michailo, especially outside. " Michailo worked in the mines from the age of 18 until he turned 63. Ruth was at his side for 37 of those hard mining years. This is sacrifice. These are those to whom we listen.


            Now, on a lighter side I also interviewed Ruth`s daughter Dennise and her husband Allen, both of who were raised in San Manuel. It should be noted that Allen and Dennise are my in-laws. Both gave tales of the mornings they would wake up early to watch the plants lay slabs of molten copper. The sky would transpose into an angry marina of orange yellow and gold. Dennise asserted similar attributes to her hometown as her mother Ruth. Everything was nice and new, but I was more interested in school. It should be noted that Dennise only failed one class in high school, a science class. Allen sat two rows across from her. She said she couldn`t concentrate on anything else. About two years ago I was over at Allen and Dennise`s house for dinner. Something came over the news that called Dennise`s attention over from the kitchen. The demolition of four large smokes stacks next to the Magma Copper mine. The smoke stacks were over 150 tall. Each tower fell with a blast one after the other. After a prolonged searing glare into the tube, Dennise`s face warped into sadness and she walked out just before the tears fell. I knew why she was sad, but I never asked her about it until this interview. She said you could see them 30 miles away. They stood to mark her childhood; they stood for her dad, Michailo.


            Allen, who`s father Delbert worked topside at the mine, was more interested in outlining some of the paranormal experiences of the mine. He told me the story of "Old White Boots` a miner who lost his head in a severe elevator lifts accident on his first day of work. People said he was constantly roaming the mine looking for his head. He wore white boots and sometimes all you would see was a pair of white boots walking in the distance. There were many sightings he said. He also told me the story of Dale Lofgreen, who was eating his lunch alone in an unfinished area of the mine. While eating he saw the face of his deceased mother who said, Run Dale, Run! Dale dropped his sandwich and ran. Just then that part of the mine collapsed. Both claimed to have stayed home from school for weeks because of the toxins in the air. Both even allege that their lungs may have been permanently affected. However, neither of them alluded to the fact that they didn`t love their childhood stomping grounds. They even showed a unique sort of defensive loyalty to the copper town. Allen said, everyone had money, there were no poor. Of course the mine was a good thing for the town. The town would exist without it. These stories and their experiences shape their lives, good or bad it is who they are. Each of us can claim relation to either a family member or a friend in the mining industry who has affected us personally. We won`t forget them. Michailo Katich, we won`t forget you.


            Another personal account or sacrifice on the other end of the spectrum belongs to Maria Gunnoe. Vicki Smith with the Associated Press reported on Fox News that Gunnoe was the recipient of the 2009 Goldman Environmental Prize. In an 11 year war with the coal companies Gunnoe has been fighting to stop mountaintop removal mining. She claims that blasting the tops off of mountains is destroying the beautiful mountain line of the Appalachians near her home. She has also alleged that removal debris dumped in the valleys below has ended up on her own property. The coal industry calls this coal country. She said. I call it God`s country. She`s one of the bravest activists we`ve seen, putting her life on the line, " said Lorrae Rominger, deputy director of the Goldman Environmental Prize. Gunnoe came to the conclusion that she can`t keep yelling from the street corner or from a stage in a park, she had to start working with the local government if she wanted anything done. It had to be through legislation. And that`s what she is doing now. Though I believe her sacrifice is for the greater good, in studying this article I respect Gunnoe`s courageous fight. In regards to the threats that she receives on a regular basis, Gunnoe said this, they are only threatening me because they feel threatened. In some cases I understand their concerns about their jobs. But they really need to take time to think about the impact on the people they`ve labeled as environmentalists. We are not environmentalists. We are, however, citizens of the community they are impacting. This moves the discussion to the effects on the community, or community sacrifices.


            Community sacrifices in the mining industry are made to sustain the livelihood of the community itself. Carol Mckinley told a heartwarming story in her article, Utah Coal Mining Community Reacts to Collapse, Rescue. In the town of Helper Utah, rescuers tried to get a look in the last pocket of the Crandall mine where six miners were believed to be trapped. In a tragic turn of events three of the rescuers die trying to dig out their fellow miners. But when an annual arts and music festival gets the highest turn out in Helper history, there can only be one message, one banner waving over this little mining town " Unity! Communities often share a feeling of unity when their economy is based in the mining industry. A dollar for the families. says a woman in an apron (McKinley, Reporters Notebook). Every booth was collecting money for the families of the lost or deceased miners. There were care washes and bake sales. The Sunday morning service board read Special services for the men. Outside of the Helper Public Library stands a two-story bronze statue of smiling coal miner wearing a hat with a light on it and carrying a pickaxe. Everyone either works inside the mine a half a mile under the surface of the mountain or knows somebody who does. (McKinley, Reporters Notebook). In the article it appeared that there were those who were ardently against the coal company, especially those who lost loved ones or property, but there were also those who cherished the opportunity and care the companies provided for their family and community. One thing was clear however, the sacrifice was recognized and for a short while it was all that was necessary to bring them together.


            Here in Arizona the debate stumbles onto the stage of the national forefront when John McCain and Jon Kyl invite U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, who represents the Obama Administration. Shaun McKinnon, with the Arizona Republic, picks up the story in his article; Interior chief weighs in on delicate Arizona mining issues. This article is two-part. It covers the issue of uranium mining near the Grand Canyon and copper mining near Superior. Ken Salazar states the position of the Obama administration well when he immediately posts a two-year ban on all mining near both of the listed sights. Conservation groups and environmentalists are thrilled. Businessmen and potential mine workers are furious. In Superior, there is an underground copper mine that is reported to produce $46.4 billion to the Arizona economy over 66 years. The mine will create 1000 immediate jobs. Sally Lyons a resident of Superior and owner of a beauty shop said the following about opening the mine, the mine could provide a financial shot in the arm that the area sorely needs. Another man said, I`m all for it. It would give a lot of people work. But Sandra Rambler of the San Carlos Apache Indian tribe claimed that the land is considered sacred to them. The planned site is actually on federal land and will have to be traded in a land exchange and conservation act, which John McCain and John Keel are responsible for bringing to the Senate floor in February. Salazar stated, for me, this is a fact finding mission. President Obama hasn`t made his opinion clear regarding the legislation but approved of Salazar`s two-year ban on the projects. The community of Superior seems to support the mine and is prepared to take on the sacrifices that come with it work being the underlying agenda.


            At the Grand Canyon, many of the surrounding towns are struggling financially. They say the uranium would put capitol back into their wallets. The State`s mining chief says the ore could help wean the United States from foreign oil. (McKinnon). Energy companies say the uranium would ease the demand for coal and reduce greenhouse gas-pollution. (McKinnon). It is estimated that there is 375 million pounds of uranium near the Grand Canyon. That is the equivalent of 13.3 billion barrels of oil which would inject $1.2 billion a year into the Arizona economy for 20 years. But at the Grand Canyon challenges parallel those in Superior. The selected land falls on federal, sacred Indian territories. The Havasupai tribe claims that their only water supply would be poisoned with toxins if the uranium was mined. The mining companies say mining technology has drastically changed since the incidents in the 1940`s where toxins got out. John McCain and Jon Kyl have made the case that too much government involvement is crippling the mining industry which is not what we need during this economic meltdown. Secretary Salazar said, I think there is a way we can balance those needs. This is true, but posing a two year ban on the mining operation is not the way. For example, in the Secretary`s home state of Colorado this concern has long since been addressed. The Colorado Mine Reclamation Act orders all mining projects at their completion to be restored to their normal State, even if it means spending a great deal of money to beautify the area. That is outstanding legislation. By not suggesting the same legislation for Arizona that is found in his own home state, leads me to believe that the Secretary is an obstructionist, not an idealist. I agree with the Senators. Crippling any industry by threatening bans is not a smart move. Major improvements have been made to boost the quality of mining operations. Guidelines can be set without impeding production.        


            In order to supplement my research I was assigned to read a novel on the topic. I chose Denise Giardina`s Storming Heaven, which in my summation means a state where all the people one cares about are united in action to protect or advance their collective ambitions. In this novel, Giardina lets her passions that lie in the rolling hills of West Virginia lead they fray in keeping the coal companies from chewing through the land of her birth. She creates four inimitable characters that life stories and experiences flow like subsidiary vessels to one large body of hope. She plays the coal industry as if it were a drug to the people. They can`t survive without it, but in the end it will kill them. Giardina has an extreme take on the relationship between the mines and the communities in which they lie, but the novel opens your eyes to the strong feelings that may have existed in West Virginia in the 1920`s. I don`t believe those feeling are shared today. Some communities, like San Manuel, Mammoth and Oracle owe their birthrights to the minerals under their land and the to the miners who mine them.


            Mining sacrifices on the grand scale lead to technological discoveries, medical solutions, and infrastructural advancements for the benefits of all modern nations. This is evident when you see planes, trains and automobiles carting human beings to their various destinations, to their place of work, to a loved one or to a favorite vacation spot. When you see a semi truck transporting food or clothing your about to buy, or a train carrying lumber for your future home or a ship from somewhere in the Orient docking at one of our ports carrying your new car, TV, computer, cell phone or I-pod, think about what they are constructed of. Think about how they are fueled. You are enjoying the benefits of mining, whether you`re an activist, a conservationist, an environmentalist you are cooking yourselves in the debate if you are enjoying any of these products. For example, if an activist uses his computer to send an email to post the time of the next demonstration rally, he`s cooked. 28% of the electrons flowing through his computer are nuclear, 43% of the electrons are coal based. One needs to take all of this into consideration. In the medical field there are more solutions than just smoking marijuana for all of your problems. Radiation kills cancer. Radioactive elements are a fruit of the earth, a fruit which must be carefully extracted. All medical equipment and tools are made of some metal of some sort. Every bit of medical technology speeds through webs of copper wiring. These examples never end. It`s like counting the sands in the sea. You have to accept the sacrifices or you will live with nothing and die with nothing. All nations understand this.


            Now having made this case, I must touch on a sensitive subject. Edward Zwick produced a movie called Blood Diamond. A blood diamond is used in third world countries to finance conflicts, feed the warlords and grow certain diamond industries. The problem is, these diamonds are mined with slave labor, innocent people are killed, and families are torn apart in the production of this kind of diamond. Make it clear that these are not the benevolent advancements or methods I am discussing in my thesis. I am a police officer and support every aspect of law, justice and equality. Where these are absent, so is my support. Hollywood`s views may be extreme, but they do open your eyes towards tragic injustices sometimes overlooked by the everyday American.


            In conclusion, I hope I have been successful in easing the panics of mining the earth, enjoying its resources or studying its composition. Processes set forth over the last century for the advancement of mankind must continue. Like I stated in my introduction, loving the earth doesn`t mean leaving it alone or leaving it untouched, unexplored. Would you want to feel that way? Yes, we take but we give, we use but we validate and define the relationship between earth and man.