Augusta Resource Corporation’s Rosemont copper project is facing another permitting challenge after the southern Arizona citizen’s coalition Save the Scenic Santa Ritas filed a lawsuit Wednesday seeking to overturn a state air quality permit.
The coalition alleges in the lawsuit that the state Arizona Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) improperly issued the air quality permit for the proposed open-pit mine in January 2013 by relying on modeling data manipulated by Rosemont to hide potential air pollution violations.
“The (ADEQ) Director should have denied the Permit because the (air pollution) sources authorized by the Permit may be expected to emit or cause to be emitted air contaminants in violation of the” National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) adopted by Arizona, the lawsuit claims.
“Air pollution from the proposed Rosemont Mine would threaten the health and safety of southern Arizonans,” SSSR President Gayle Hartmann stated in a press release.
This is the second lawsuit filed by the coalition of small businesses, farmers, ranchers and conservationists challenging a state-issued permit for the proposed mile-wide, half-mile deep mine in the Santa Rita Mountains on the Coronado National Forest southeast of Tucson.
Last year, SSSR filed a lawsuit seeking to overturn ADEQ’s approval of an aquifer protection permit for the mine. An initial ruling on the aquifer protection permit lawsuit is expected later this summer.
The air quality and aquifer protection permits remain in effect pending the resolution of the lawsuits.
The legal action comes just days before the Forest Service is expected to release its written responses to 101 formal objections to the Coronado National Forest’s Final Environmental Impact Statement and Draft Record of Decision for the Rosemont project.
“There were a tremendous amount of issues raised and we needed extra time to extensively review each objection,” Southwest Regional Forester Cal Joyner stated in a press release. “I believe we have thoroughly reviewed and considered the issues raised.”
The Forest Service must provide the written responses to objections filed by individuals and organizations opposed to the massive mining project before it can issue a Final Record of Decision approving the mine plan of operations. The Forest Service did not indicate when the Final ROD will be issued.
Instead, the Forest Service stated that it “continues to work with other federal partners who have regulatory or administrative responsibilities regarding the proposed Rosemont Copper project.”
Coronado National Forest Supervisor Jim Upchurch has requested that the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service begin another round of review of the mine project’s potential impact on endangered species “due to the documented presence of an ocelot within or near the project area and the potential listing of species that were not considered in the original biological opinion.”
Last month, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers notified Rosemont that its plan to mitigate the mine’s unavoidable destruction of critical regional water resources was insufficient. As a result, the possibility that the Army Corps will deny Rosemont’s Clean Water Act Sec. 404 permit application has significantly increased.
The mine cannot be built without the 404 permit.
Vancouver, B.C.-based Augusta Resource is the target of a hostile takeover by Toronto-based Hudbay Mineral Resources. Hudbay currently owns 16 percent of Augusta’s 145 million shares of common stock. Hudbay has set a June 9 deadline for acceptance of the offer, but it has repeatedly extended the deadline since launching the hostile bid in February.
Augusta’s poison pill shareholders’ protection plan adopted last year has successfully stymied Hudbay’s bid. Canadian regulators, however, ruled in an April administrative hearing that Augusta’s poison pill will expire on July 15 if Hudbay’s offer remains in place through at least July 16.