Rosemont’s Clean Water Regulatory History

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Army Corps’ recommendation to deny Rosemont a Clean Water Act permit follows years of warnings that the proposed mine fails to comply with the law

(Tucson, Ariz.) The recommendation by the US Army Corps of Engineers Los Angeles District Engineer last July to deny a required Clean Water Act (CWA) permit for the proposed Rosemont mine is consistent with repeated warnings by state and federal agencies that the project failed to comply with the law.

Toronto-based Hudbay Minerals Inc., the owner of the Rosemont project, has failed to submit a mitigation plan to compensate for the destruction of wetlands, springs and seeps and important, functioning aquatic resources that meets the CWA’s requirements under Section 404 of the law.

In 2014, the Army Corps notified the previous owners of the Rosemont project that its Sec. 404 mitigation plan was insufficient. No new mitigation plans has been offered since that time.

The Corps’ district recommendation has been forwarded to the San Francisco regional office, which is expected to make a final decision in the near future.

The proposed Rosemont mine would be constructed on the northeastern flank of the Santa Rita Mountains on the Coronado National Forest 35 miles southeast of downtown Tucson. The mile-wide, half-mile deep open pit mine would dump waste rock and mine tailings on more than 3,000 acres of Coronado National Forest.

The mine’s devastating impacts to the Santa Rita Mountains watershed and Rosemont’s failure to meet CWA standards have long been the subject of significant county, state and federal regulatory concern and is outlined below.

January 5, 2012: In a letter to the Army Corps, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) stated that Rosemont has not “demonstrated” it will be able to comply with watershed protection guidelines for “Davidson Canyon and Cienega Creek, both designated as ‘Outstanding Waters’ by the state of Arizona.”

The EPA suggested the permit be reviewed at the Washington headquarters of the Army Corps and the EPA.

(EPA Letter to Army Corps – 1/5/2012)

February 13, 2012: The EPA sent a letter to the Army Corps stating that the deficiencies in Rosemont’s Clean Water Act Section 404 application “could provide an adequate basis for permit denial…”

(EPA Letter to Army Corps – 2/13/2012) 

January 25, 2013: In a letter to the Army Corps, the EPA strongly criticized Rosemont’s proposed plans to mitigate the damage caused by the mine stating that the “methods used to assess aquatic functions at the project site and proposed mitigation sites are scientifically flawed, and therefore fail to adequately identify and quantify those functions.”

(EPA Letter to Army Corps – 1/25/2013)

August 15, 2013:  In a letter to the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) expressed strong concerns about the proposed mine’s impacts on the Las Cienegas National Conservation Area (NCA). The BLM stated that the proposed mine would be “detrimental to the purposes for which the Las Cienegas NCA has been established…” When Congress established the Las Cienegas, it did so to protect the riparian and water resources of the area.

(Letter from BLM to the Coronado National Forest – 8/15/2013)

November 7, 2013:  In a letter to the Army Corps, the EPA recommended denial of Rosemont’s Clean Water Act permit application stating Rosemont’s mitigation plan “was insufficient to avoid ‘significant degradation’ of the aquatic ecosystem.”

(Letter from EPA to the Army Corps of Engineers – 11/7/2013)

December 30, 2013: In a letter to the Army Corps, Pima County stated that the Rosemont mitigation proposal fails because it cannot produce the necessary mitigation credits due to an unpredictable and insufficient long-term water supply.

(Letter from Pima County to the Army Corps – 12/30/2013) 

February 14, 2014: The Arizona Game and Fish Department provided comments to the Forest Service raising concerns about the “the potential effects of mine waste rock stormwater runoff and tailings seepage on the downgradient watersheds, including the water quality of the Outstanding Arizona Waters in Davidson Canyon, Cienega Creek, riparian and aquatic species…”

(Letter from Arizona Game and Fish Dept. to Coronado National Forest – 2/14/2014)

February 28, 2014:  The Army Corps sent a letter to Rosemont Copper Company stating that Rosemont failed to provide a mitigation plan that focuses on restoration and enhancement of watersheds to compensate for the destruction of about 70 acres of wetlands that would occur by construction of the mine. The letter gave Rosemont a specific deadline to submit such a plan.

(Letter from Army Corps to Rosemont Copper – 2/28/2014)

April 4, 2014: Pima County wrote the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality regarding ADEQ’s certification that Rosemont would not violate the Clean Water Act. The County said the certification was based on “faulty information” in the Coronado National Forest’s (CNF) Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) and “unsubstantiated opinions in documents provided by Rosemont Copper Company.”

(Letter from Pima County to ADEQ 4/4/2014)

April 7, 2014: EPA similarly wrote to ADEQ regarding the certification issued by the state agency stating that it “believes the draft…certification and supporting information provide an insufficient basis from which to conclude existing water quality will be maintained”, that ADEQ’s proposal would not “prevent water quality degradation in Davidson Wash and Cienega Creek,” and that “the risk of water quality degradation remains high.”

(Letter from EPA to ADEQ – 4/7/2014)

May 13, 2014: The Army Corps once again put Rosemont on notice that its plan to mitigate the impacts to southern Arizona’s water resources from the proposed mine fall short. The Army Corps stated, “that the proposed compensatory mitigation would not fully compensate for the unavoidable adverse impacts that would remain after all appropriate and practicable avoidance and minimization measures have been achieved.”

(Letter from Army Corps to Rosemont Copper – 5/13/2014)

July 29, 2016  According to published reports, the Army Corps’ Los Angeles district office recommended denial of the Clean Water Act permit for the proposed Rosemont mine. The recommendation is under consideration by the Army Corps’ regional office in San Francisco.

(The Arizona Daily Star – July 29, 2016)

October 21, 2016 Pima County sent a letter to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers San Francisco regional office to uphold the Corps’ Los Angeles district recommendation to deny Rosemont Copper’s Clean Water Act permit request.

(Letter from Pima County to the Army Corp – October 21, 2016)

December 28, 2016   The Commander of the US Army Corps of Engineers’ South Pacific Division sent a letter to Hudbay Minerals reiterating the agency’s reasons for recommending denial of the Sec. 404 permit for the proposed Rosemont Mine.

Additionally, in this letter the Corps addressed Hudbay recently raised questions about regulatory jurisdiction noting that jurisdiction was initially asserted by Rosemont’s own consultants and accepted by the Corps.

(Letter from the South Pacific Division to Hudbay Minerals – December 28, 2016)

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