Barber encourages extension of Bisbee Queen Mine tours

Congressman urges chairman of Freeport-McMoRan to work with Bisbee to save jobs and tourism revenue

Arizona Representative Ron Barber called for continued cooperation between executives of Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold Inc. and the city of Bisbee to keep the Queen Mine Tour in Bisbee open. The tour is the town’s top tourist attraction and a leading source of revenue.

“I urge you to continue working with the city of Bisbee to promptly and thoroughly address the pending issues at that mine so that the Queen Mine Tours can continue to operate without interruption,” Barber wrote to James Moffett, chairman of Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold Inc. “The Queen Mine Tour showcases an important part of Bisbee’s heritage and provides a gateway into our nation’s economic past.”

Bisbee Mayor Adriana Badal welcomed Barber’s involvement in an effort to save the jobs of the mine tour’s 13 employees – and the main draw for tourists who visit Bisbee. “I appreciate Congressman Barber’s help and attention to this issue very, very much. He is an important partner to our community,” Badal said.

The Queen Mine is a former working copper mine. After the mine closed in 1975, Bisbee officials worked with the mine owner to open a tour through a portion of the world-famous mine.

Volunteers cleared thousands of tons of fallen rock and re-timbered the old mine workings. The tour opened to visitors on Feb. 1, 1976. Since then, more than a million visitors, from all 50 states and more than 30 foreign countries, have enjoyed the ride into the mountain on the underground mine tour train, according to tour operators.

But earlier this month, Freeport-McMoRan told Bisbee officials that in June, it had identified infrastructure issues and detected elevated levels of radon at the mine. The company said it planned to terminate the Queen Mine Tour’s lease. Freeport-McMoRan said tourists were not at risk, but it was concerned about employees who made multiple trips into the mine where they were exposed to the naturally occurring radioactive gas.

Barber wrote that safety of employees and visitors must be the number one goal of Freeport-McMoRan, and the city of Bisbee began moving forward. Freeport-McMoRan has delayed ending the lease until it evaluates the mine to see what steps can be taken to ventilate the gas. It also is working with Bisbee officials to level some uneven walking surfaces inside the mine.

Closing the mine tours would be a financial blow to Bisbee’s economy, said Badal. Some 43,000 people toured the mine last year and it brought in $560,000 in revenue – more than enough to pay its 13 employees and all operating costs.