In recent months, a series of mining claims have shown up on the eastern edge of Bill Williams Mountain. Drake Cement LLC staked the land in their efforts to find a critical ingredient for their concrete: pozzolan. In total, these claims cover about 850 acres of U.S. Forest Service land to the south of Williams, Arizona.
What is a pozzolan?
A pozzolan is an igneous material found in volcanic tuff. Natural deposits occur when ash from ancient eruptions compresses under pressure over millions of years. When crushed into a powder, a pozzolan reacts with water and calcium hydroxide to form cement. Engineers have used naturally-occurring pozzolans as far back as the Roman Empire for enduring construction projects.
The General Mining Act of 1872 and Bill Williams Mountain
While many people associate mining claims with precious metals like gold and silver, prospectors can place a claim for any economic mineral, including pozzolans. According to the General Mining Act of 1872, any federal land that has not been set aside for a specific use is open for prospecting and mining claims. The land around Bill Williams Mountain qualifies for this purpose.
Drake Cement’s Operations at Frenchy Pit
In December of 2021, Drake received permission from the National Forest Service to begin a pozzolan mining operation on 65 acres near Frenchy Pit to the northeast of Williams. This open-pit mine will use bulldozers and excavators for extraction, operating only during daylight hours. In preparation for this effort, the Forest Service carefully examined the land with local Tribes to identify sensitive wildlife habitats or archaeological sites. Drake Cement expects to remove 300,000 to 500,000 tons of pozzolan from the area every year for about 20 years.
When the stake claims near Bill Williams Mountain appeared, residents and the Williams City Council began to express concerns. In an article by Wendy Howell of the Williams-Grand Canyon News, local resident Steve Dudley said, “This is going to generate a huge visible scar on the east face of the mountain. The mine borders private property its entire length. These properties will be heavily impacted, as will the city of Williams, the Havasupai Tribe, and its watersheds.”
City council members have also expressed concerns about potential impacts on the water supply, erosion, and damage to local forests. They are mindful that the government has approved other pozzolan mining efforts despite public protests, such as the Kirkland Mining Co. operation at Skull Valley in 2018.
About Drake Cement, LLC
Drake Cement started in 2011 and has grown into the leading supplier of Portland cement and other construction materials in the southwest. During that time, Drake Cement has endeavored to be a sustainable company that recognizes both its environmental and social responsibilities. As a natural resource company, the business strives to limit its impact on the local environment by adopting energy-efficient practices and partnering with local leaders.
Seeking Clear Communication
David Chavez of Drake Cement wants to clarify the meaning of the Bill Williams Mountain claims. He said, “All we are doing right now — we’re just doing a lot of exploration work around the state — trying to find other sources of minerals that we can use at our cement plant in Paulden.” The company does not expect any mining operations near the mountain to happen within the next few years, and the U.S. Forest Service acknowledges that they have not received any formal mining requests.
For now, Drake Cement wants to keep an open line of communication with the Williams City Council and residents. According to Chavez, “We are happy to entertain that. Drake is a very socially responsible company, and one thing we don’t want is bad press. We want to be known as a company who is a good neighbor, who pays people good money, pays good benefits, and does all the right things.”