The Coronado National Forest is expected to issue of Final Record of Decision approving the proposed Rosemont Mine next month, but the $1.9 billion project can not move forward until the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issues a Clean Water Act permit.
The Forest Service announced its plans in a Federal Register notice published on Monday, May 8. Toronto-based Hudbay Minerals is seeking permits to construct the third-largest open pit copper mine in the United States in Santa Rita Mountains on the Coronado National Forest southeast of Tucson.
Coronado Forest Supervisor Kerwin Dewberry told the Arizona Daily Star a little less than a year ago that he wasn’t necessarily going to wait for a Corps decision before making his own, the paper reported Monday. But, the paper stated, Dewberry said he would want to see the Corps’ analysis of the mine, adding: “I’m not saying I won’t wait. I’m saying my decision is not contingent on their decision.”
The Army Corps’ Los Angeles district office last July recommended denying the permit for the Rosemont mine. The Corps’ San Francisco regional office is reviewing the permit and has repeatedly stated it has no timetable for making a final decision, the Daily Star reported.
The Los Angeles district office determined the project would “cause or contribute to” violations of Arizona water quality standards and trigger “significant degradation” of federally regulated washes, the Arizona Daily Star reported on Jan. 14.
Mine opponents sharply criticised the Forest Service’s decision to approve the mine before the Corps’ permitting decision.
“There is no compelling reason for the Forest Service to move forward with this decision at this time,” said Randy Serraglio, conservation advocate for the Center for Biological Diversity. “It’s a slap in the face to other agencies that are still carefully considering the
devastating impacts of this proposal. There are still far too many unanswered questions about Rosemont to plausibly pretend that a decision is warranted.”
“If the Forest Service proceeds to issue a Record of Decision before the Corps’ decision, it is wasting time, energy and tax dollars in what is nothing more than a PR exercise,” said Gayle Hartmann, president of Save the Scenic Santa Ritas. “In the absence of a Clean Water Act permit, a final Mine Plan of Operations and a bonding agreement, the Forest Service has no decision to make.”
The proposed project would be conducted on approximately 995 acres of private land owned by Hudbay Minerals; 3,670 acres of Forest Service lands; and 75 acres of Arizona State Land Department land. The operation will produce copper, molybdenum and silver concentrates.
Mine tailings and waste rock would be dumped on more than 3,000 acres of national forest. A dozen threatened and endangered species live in the area, including a male jaguar that has been repeatedly photographed close to the proposed mine site.
The mile-wide, 3,000-foot deep open pit would not be backfilled. The pit will draw groundwater from the surrounding area, lowering the ground water table and threatening to destroy rare riparian resources in the Las Cienegas National Conservation Area east of the mine site.