Save the Scenic Santa Ritas (SSSR), a Tucson-based conservation group, has requested the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to prepare a supplemental environmental impact statement (SEIS) for the new mitigation plan submitted by Hudbay Minerals before the Corps makes a final decision on whether to issue a federal Clean Water Act Section 404 permit required for construction of the proposed Rosemont mine.
SSSR’s request was included in a Dec. 11 letter sent to Brig. General D. Peter Helmlinger, Commander of the South Pacific Division of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
The last time the public had an opportunity to review and comment on a mitigation plan for the proposed Rosemont mine was 2011. At that time, the public reviewed a 6-page conceptual plan.
The current 859-page plan submitted in September of this year includes 3 features: one that was ruled out in the 2011 plan, one that is a completely new concept, and one that is substantially revised. The public has had no opportunity to review and comment on the current plan that is supposed to mitigate the very significant impacts that would occur to Outstanding Waters of Arizona and waters of the United States if the mine is approved.
Additionally, SSSR notes that there is significant new information and important errors in the Forest Service’s EIS which must be analyzed before the Corps makes a decision.
As SSSR’s letter states, the Corps is required to prepare an SEIS when:
- There is a substantial change to the proposed action that is relevant to environmental concerns;
- There is significant new circumstances or information relevant to environmental concerns and bearing on the proposed action or its impacts; or
- When preparing an SEIS would further the purposes of the National Environmental Policy Act.
“In this instance, as we discuss below, all three criteria are triggered,” SSSR President Gayle Hartmann states in the letter. “The SEIS should be prepared and filed as a draft SEIS, made available for public comment and then filed as a (final) EIS.”
SSSR requested the Corps to “prepare and circulate for review and public comment a supplemental environmental impact statement (SEIS) prior to making a decision regarding issuance of a Section 404 permit under the Clean Water Act for the proposed Rosemont copper mine.”
As SSSR’s letter notes, the Corps’ Los Angeles District Engineer recommended denial of the 404 permit because its mitigation plan failed to compensate for the destruction of federal waters and because the proposed mine was not in the public interest, citing, in part, its impact on tribal cultural resources.
SSSR has opposed various attempts to construct the Rosemont Mine since 1996. The mine would destroy more than 2,500 acres of Coronado National Forest and more than 100 miles of desert streams, washes, seeps and springs that provide significant recharge to Tucson’s groundwater drinking supplies.
SSSR’s letter is the third request from major opponents of the proposed mile-wide, half-mile deep open pit mine to the Corps to consider additional information before deciding on Hudbay’s request for the Section 404 permit.
The Tohono-O’0dham Nation in November demanded that the Corps engage in formal consultation with the tribe over the cultural and environmental impacts of the mine. Last week, Pima County warned the Corps that Hudbay’s application for the 404 permit was outdated and in violation of federal law.
Rosemont opponents have already filed two federal lawsuits seeking to block the mine. Last month, SSSR and three other groups filed suit alleging the U.S. Forest Service violated the National Environmental Policy Act, the Clean Water Act and other federal laws when it issued a final record of decision approving the mine.
That suit came two months after the Center for Biological Diversity filed a lawsuit in federal court challenging the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s issuance of a biological report that concluded the mine would not have a significant impact on endangered species including the jaguar.