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Freeport-McMoRan opens doors to visitors

Posted: Tuesday, Nov 6th, 2012

Sherri Davis/ Arizona Silver Belt
Freeport-McMoRan offered bussed tours of its facilities on Saturday to more than 1,000 visitors during its Community Appreciation Day.

Miami — Visitors to Freeport-McMoRan’s Community Appreciation Day on Saturday may have approached the event with a sense of curiosity but most left with a sense of awe and a great deal of pride.

Even before going through the doors of Miami High School where the event was held, visitors were greeted by company employees eager to talk about their displays. Families were invited to stand in front of an enormous photograph of a hauler hanging off the side of the building for “photo ops.”

Coiled rods most of us only see behind the fences of the rod plant glittered in front of the school entrance.

Just inside the school building were wagons of rocks heavily laced with veins of blue chrysocolla — the ore that makes Miami’s one of the richest deposits of copper in the world. Children and adults alike picked up the rocks, admiring the colors and choosing a sample to take home with them.

Plenty of employees were on hand talking about the work they do and the equipment they use to bring the ore out of the ground and through the purification process.

One of the most impressive displays showed a microscopic slide of a human hair compared to the much tinier thread of a copper wire.

Some of these wires, made from ore collected behind the town of Miami, are used in the space shuttle program.

Employees also boasted that Freeport-McMoRan’s Miami copper mine is the sole provider of all of the copper being used to rebuild the World Trade Center in New York.

Miami has one of only three smelters being used in the United States. The other two are in nearby Hayden and Utah. The local mine has been operating for more than 100 years and it has seen a lot of change. The hauler truck bed parked in the front yard of the Bullion Plaza with the dump truck inside of it can easily fit into one of the haulers used in the mines today.

The slopes of the mining site are now monitored with radar, prisms and other advanced technology to keep the mines safe.

The roads through the mine have been kept so smooth and well cared for that one of the haul trucks recently logged 90,000 miles on a set of tires — a feat recognized by Firestone. Freeport McMoRan is the only mine in the world to have accomplished that.

Some of the land inside the mine’s perimeter once housed its upper management and executives. A lone palm tree and a couple of cypress trees high on a hill are the only markers for what used to be an elite community with its own hospital and post office.

While so much of the mine runs with the help of modern technology and bigger and stronger machines, some of the land reclamation can only be accomplished by a few four footed employees. FLOSBies, which stands for “four legged organic soil builders,” work the tailings benches, the non-mineralized materials from the milling process. In ordinary, non-technical terms, they are cattle.

It is the FLOSBies’ jobs to stabilize the ground simply by walking around on it and compacting the soil. They are well fed and they repay that favor by dropping generous piles of fertilizer over the slopes.

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