Remembering the Smelter: The Magma Copper Company Smelter at Superior

Claiming the Future by Reclaiming the Past2019 Reclamation Activities

  • Reclamation of soils surrounding smelter area in spring of 2019
  • Seeding and rehabilitation of smelter area in the summer of 2019
  • Removal of mining impacted soils continues around the west plant site where they are placed on the #6 tailings storage facility for mass grade fill. This helps to minimize the mining footprint and provides much-needed fill material to help close the tailings facility. This work will largely be completed in 2019 and will be followed by placement of a soil cover and planting native vegetation in 2020. Areas where soil has been removed will be replanted in 2019. As in the past, much of this work is being completed by local contractors.

A booklet on the history of the Magma Copper smelter in Superior, Arizona is now available free of charge at our Mine Information Office at 402 W. Main Street, Superior, AZ 85173. Stop by and pick up your copy during regular business hours Monday-Friday, 9am-5pm. Read and download the PDF:  Remembering the Magma Copper Smelter

Magma Copper smelter chimney stack safely demolished: Watch demolition on YouTube

Smelter removal is a key milestone in the 15-year West Plant Reclamation Project

Resolution Copper’s demolition contractor has safely and successfully completed the controlled demolition of the Magma Copper smelter’s chimney stack in Superior, Arizona, which was structurally unsound and posed a significant threat to safety. Resolution Copper’s number one priority is ensuring the health and safety of our employees and the community, and finalizing this latest phase of the 15-year reclamation effort is a vital step in fulfilling our commitment to health, safety and environmental stewardship.

In addition to proactively addressing the safety threat posed by the crumbling chimney stack, it was also necessary to remove smelter structures in order to clean all contaminants out of the soil that had accumulated during five decades of the Magma Copper Company’s smelting operations, which started in 1924 and ended in 1971. Safe removal and cleanup of the smelter complex is a major milestone in Resolution Copper’s broader reclamation of the West Plant property adjacent to Superior, which began in 2005 and is on schedule for completion in 2020.

Magma Copper smelter chimney stack demolition

“Being a good neighbor is extremely important to Resolution Copper. We are dedicated to making Superior a cleaner and safer place to live and work,” said Andrew Lye, Resolution Copper Project Director. “When the company took over the West Plant property in 2004, restoring the land was a top priority, and the safe removal of the smelter was unfortunately required for us to finish the job. The Town of Superior has been an important partner throughout the reclamation process, and we’ll continue to coordinate our efforts with Superior’s public officials as we move forward.”

Superior Mayor, Mila Besich offered the following statement: “As we bid farewell to the smelter stack, we are reminded of all that it has represented to generations of our citizens. It is an iconic reminder of every miner, engineer, craftsman and staff who have worked the Magma mine. It has been a symbol of our mining history, the industry that created Superior and the families which made Superior a community. We will miss seeing this important and historic structure from our skyline, but we also celebrate the new era that is before us today – a new mine, abundant economic and community development opportunities and our community working together to create greater opportunities for the benefit of all – not only for today but for future generations. Superior’s best days are truly ahead of us, and together we will establish Superior’s growth and prosperity in the 21st century.”

Magma smelter site at West Plant, November 20, 2018

The next major phases in the West Plant reclamation project are:

o          Reclamation of surrounding soils in spring of 2019

o          Seeding and rehabilitation of smelter site in the summer of 2019

Resolution Copper understands the cultural significance of the Magma Copper smelter complex for the Superior community, and the company is funding several agreements with the town that include commemorating the town’s rich mining history. Resolution Copper proactively sought this opportunity to work with the community, including residents and elected officials. The agreements with the Town of Superior are based on several months of gathering feedback from residents on how they would like to see Superior’s mining history preserved.

Magma Smelter (1920s, 2 Stacks)

Under one of these agreements, Resolution Copper is funding major improvements to Superior’s US Highway 60 Park & Caboose Visitor Center, known for its feature landmark, a train caboose converted into a visitor center. Resolution Copper is collaborating with the Town of Superior on the park improvement project. The scope includes working with the Town to enhance the mining history trail, upgrading existing playground equipment to include new mining themed elements and landscaping.

Another part of Resolution Copper’s ongoing effort to celebrate the history of the Magma Copper Company smelter has been the work of WestLand Resources, Inc. (WestLand). WestLand carried out detailed architectural documentation of the smelter, using an aerial drone to take high-resolution photographs and video of each structure. The drone imagery was processed with specialized computer software to generate both conventional architectural drawings of individual structures as well as three-dimensional models of selected buildings. The drawings and other documentation have been used to complete the standard Historic Property Inventory Forms for individual structures typically required by the Arizona State Historic Preservation Office.

B&W Magma Smelter area 2 stacks_720x530

WestLand has consulted a wide variety of early maps, photographs, company records and other documents. These sources together provide a better understanding of when the different parts of the complex were built and used, along with new details on the smelter’s role in the history of both Magma Copper and the community of Superior. WestLand has also been conducting oral history interviews with former Magma employees who worked either at the smelter or in other parts of the Magma operation. The interviews have been recorded by a professional videographer, and excerpts of the recordings will be used to produce a video history of the smelter for public distribution, available in mid-2019.

WestLand has presented its research in a series of public meetings in Superior over the last few months. In addition, WestLand produced a booklet about the history of the smelter that includes historic and recent maps and photographs. The smelter history booklet is now available at our Mine Information Office at 402 W. Main Street in Superior. Read and download the PDF:  Remembering the Magma Copper Smelter

Resolution Copper has also collaborated with the Town of Superior and Boyce Thompson Arboretum to celebrate the smelter’s connections to the community by displaying a collection of historical photographs of the smelter complex at Boyce Thompson Arboretum. The exhibition, titled Images to Remember: The Magma Copper Company Smelter at Superior, consists of large reproductions of historic and recent photographs, a video display, maps and construction drawings of the smelter. The exhibition is installed in the Benson House at the Arboretum and will be open to the public free of charge until May 20, 2019, during scheduled business hours (Fall-Winter hours: Monday-Sunday, 8 am to 5 pm, October thru April). For more information on viewing the smelter exhibition, contact Boyce Thompson Arboretum at (602) 827-3000.

Magma Copper smelter stack demolition

Magma Copper smelter chimney stack

Reclamation background:

Resolution Copper is committed to completing a major environmental reclamation project for the West Plant site near Superior affected by previous mining operations conducted by Magma Copper Company during the years between 1911 and 1996. We are continuing land reclamation work to address legacy mining residues by removing soil contaminants and restoring the area with natural vegetation. We’ve already rehabilitated more than 130 acres of the site and consolidated waste from the old mine, improved stormwater management and closed historic tailings and waste rock piles with engineered covers planted with native vegetation, making what’s left of Magma’s operation better than when we found it from a safety and health perspective. We have invested $40 million in our land reclamation work so far, and when we’re done we will have invested about $80 million in the project.

West Plant soil reclamation

We’re dedicated to providing transparent information on reclamation and on how Resolution Copper is playing an instrumental role in preserving Superior’s cultural heritage. We invite you to email your questions to or stop by our Mine Information Office located at 402 W. Main Street. You can also call us at 520-689-3392 to ask questions and give feedback over the phone.

Resolution Copper is in the process of executing plans for the remaining work on the West Plant property that was previously occupied by the Magma Copper Company north of Superior, which operated from the early 1900s until the mid-1990s. In 2015 we announced that West Plant reclamation plans include removal of the Magma Smelter complex, which we understand has cultural and historical value in the Superior community. Multiple technical studies have been conducted on the Smelter structures in recent years. Based on the results of these studies, the company validated and confirmed the necessity of the previous decision that a proactive approach was required to clean contaminants out of the soil and eliminate a safety threat to our employees posed by the unstable Smelter structures.

Magma smelter stack

The Smelter chimney stack, in particular, was failing over the years and it was only a matter of time before it came down on its own. Technical studies showed an unacceptable risk of future collapse under heavy stress from high winds. The stack’s condition in 2018 did not meet building code requirements under high sustained wind conditions. Wind loading is a measurement of how much stress a structure can withstand from variations in wind forces. As the stack deteriorated, bricks were falling from it over the years, creating a hazard for people who worked near it. Our proactive approach to safely bringing the stack down ensured it could only happen in a controlled fashion while reducing impacts on soil, water, air and wildlife. Resolution Copper contracted demolition experts with Environmental Resources Management (ERM) to carry out the work. We took all steps available to ensure safe execution, including dust and noise mitigation measures.

Removal and cleanup of the Magma Smelter were also necessary to complete environmental reclamation work, which includes proper disposal of contaminants such as arsenic, lead and copper present in buildings and surrounding soil. The Smelter complex contained the site’s highest concentrations of soils affected by metals from historical ore processing operations, and in order to clean up those contaminants, the structures had to be taken down. Resolution Copper is carrying out the work in keeping with our commitment to health, safety and environmental stewardship. We are conducting all reclamation of the West Plant site in accordance with an agreement with the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) under the Voluntary Remediation Program and according to Aquifer Protection Permit requirements.

The old Magma Mine started producing in 1912 and soon became one of the largest copper producers in the United States. The operation shut down in 1996, but the potential to develop a rich new copper deposit near the town of Superior and reusing the already disturbed historic mining site kept the site active and alive.

Resolution Copper’s number one priority is health and safety, and finalizing the West Plant reclamation project is an important part of our commitment to protecting our employees and the local community. Demolition of the Magma Copper smelter complex is an important part of that commitment for health and safety. Through responsible environmental stewardship, we’re making Superior a cleaner and safer place to live and work. Demolishing the smelter stack finalized a key phase in the larger West Plant reclamation project that began in 2005, with scheduled completion in 2020.

For additional details on Magma Copper Smelter demolition in Q&A form, please refer to this document: FAQ Smelter demolition

Edward Denogean, former Magma Copper employee

The Resolution Copper team is proud of our work to clean up the former Magma Copper site and make it safer. At the same time, we understand the historical value of the Smelter complex and its significance to Superior residents. We know the chimney stack was an important landmark. That’s why the company has worked with citizens on cultural heritage initiatives designed to preserve the Magma Smelter’s place in the rich mining legacy of Superior.

West Plant Reclamation updates will be posted on this web page periodically.











Magma Smelter engine shop demolition









Magma Copper Smelter demolition 9.18.18









More information on reclamation work is available here: Reclamation Brochure 2018

Additional photographs and video are available on our Flickr and YouTube channels.

The Resolution Copper mine is a long-term investment in Arizona that will access one of the largest undeveloped copper resources in the world. Through our industry-leading approach to mine development, we are working in partnership with communities, local businesses and institutions to help share the economic benefits of our project.

Magma smelter reclamation

Magma smelter aerial view