/ Modified mar 3, 2024 7:49 p.m.

Canadian company conducting exploratory drilling on state-leased land in the Willcox Playa

Some locals have raised concerns about water and other environmental impacts.

Joanna Seeley Chair of the People for the Playa group Joanna Seeley shares her concerns about the Max Power Mining Corporation to Arizona Attorney General Kris Mayes during a town hall at the Sunsites Community Center. February 23, 2024.
Summer Hom, AZPM News

A Canadian company, Max Power Mining Corporation has been doing some exploratory drilling for lithium on state-leased land in the Willcox Playa since December, according to the company's press release. But since drilling began, some locals have raised concerns about the environmental impact.

Max Power Chief Executive Officer Rav Mlait said the company has a mineral exploration permit for the project.

He said the company has drilled five holes so far. According to the company’s most recent press release on their Willcox Playa Project, they are working with ALS Global in Tucson to assess the claystone and brine samples from the Willcox Playa.

But the company’s interest in the area has already concerned some locals. Joanna Seeley is the chair of the People for the Playa — which is opposed to the project.

Seeley said her main concerns relate to water usage and, “With the way the winds blow around here, there would be a lot of dust from just equipment moving around the Playa. Then as the Playa ponds dry the Lithium powders would be flying in the air ... It would destroy the Playa, which is a national landmark. It would take away the nesting area for a lot of birds and wildlife.”

Max Power said it is focused on the claystone sequence below the Willcox Playa and have trapped any fluids that are not safe to drink.

Seeley expressed her concern about Max Power to Arizona Attorney General Kris Mayes during a town hall about groundwater a week ago. The Attorney General said there is a possible legal avenue.

"I think potentially, again we haven’t really gotten too far down the road with this, but potentially nuisance law could be applied to that situation if they are engaging in activities that are a nuisance to the community, we would certainly look at that,” said Mayes.

Records on the Cochise County Assessor's website show that the Playa is a patchwork of both federal and state land.

Bureau of Land Management Arizona State Office Deputy State Director of Communications Amber Cargile wrote in an email that Max Power Mining has filed mining claims on BLM-managed public lands in the area near the Willcox Playa, but those claims are still being reviewed by the BLM.

The Willcox Playa is the biggest dry lake in Arizona and is a roosting location for the Sandhill Cranes according to the National Park Service.

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