The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Los Angeles district office is recommending denial of a crucial Clean Water Act permit requested by Toronto-based Hudbay Minerals Inc. needed to build its proposed Rosemont open-pit copper mine in southeastern Arizona.
The Corps’ L.A. district commander sent the recommendation last week to the agency’s San Francisco regional office, which will make the final decision, the Arizona Daily Star reported on Thursday.
A decision by the Corps regional office — which can be appealed — could be six months off due to its complexity, a Corps spokeswoman told the Daily Star.
Hudbay told the Daily Star that sending the permit decision up for a more senior level review within the Army Corps has always been a potential path of action under the agency’s procedures.
“It is in no way a final decision. Hudbay Arizona will continue to work with the agency to satisfy its requirements to grant the permit,” Hudbay said Thursday in a written statement sent to the newspaper.
Mine opponents welcomed the recommendation to deny to the Section 404 Clean Water Act permit for the proposed mile-wide, half-mile deep open pit copper mine that would be constructed in the Santa Rita Mountains on the Coronado National Forest 35 miles southeast of Tucson.
“The recommendation from the District Engineer to say ‘NO’ to this foreign mining company is consistent with both this agency and the EPA’s (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s) longstanding concerns about this project’s impact to southern Arizona’s water,” said Gayle Hartmann, president of Save the Scenic Santa Ritas, a Tucson-based citizens coalition in a written statement.
“It’s very encouraging to see the Corps moving toward denial of this permit,” said Randy Serraglio, conservation advocate with the Center for Biological Diversity. “The record is clear — the Rosemont mine would pollute Arizona’s air, drain its water supply and do tremendous damage to its wildlife and wild places that could never be adequately mitigated. The Corps has apparently concluded what we’ve known all along — that the Rosemont mine is simply not in the public interest.”
The Corps, the Daily Star reported, must rule on separate questions: Does the mine meet its standards for being in the public interest, and are Hudbay’s plans to mitigate for its impacts to streams and washes adequate?
Hudbay’s dredging and filling activities for the mine are expected to cause direct and indirect impacts to 68 acres of washes, the Corps has said. To compensate, Hudbay proposes to buy and preserve and/or restore about 4,800 acres of private land.
The EPA sent a November 2013 letter to the Army Corps sharply criticizing an earlier mitigation plan submitted by Rosemont mine’s previous owner, Augusta Resource Corporation. Hudbay, which purchased Augusta Resource in July 2014 to acquire the Rosemont property, made several modifications to the mitigation plan in September 2015.
An EPA private consultant subsequently sharply criticized Hudbay’s primary mitigation modification as unlikely to be successful.
The EPA has veto authority over the issuance of Army Corps Clean Water Act permits.