Pima County: Forest Service is rushing to judgment and distorting information in Rosemont environmental report

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Pima County’s top administrator is warning that the U.S. Forest Service has “mischaracterized” statements in the draft Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) for the proposed Rosemont mine and is “rushing” to issue a final decision for the massive open pit copper mine despite significant changes to the project that have never been publicly analyzed.

“It appears the Forest Service is rushing to complete the Final EIS and issue a Record of Decision by the end of September,” Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry said in a July 10 memorandum to members of the Pima County Board of Supervisors.

The Forest Service, Huckelberry said, had a choice to issue a Supplemental EIS to address significant changes to the mine plan announced last summer and allow public comment, or go straight to a final EIS without public comment.

The Forest Service chose the latter and on July 1 issued an “administrative draft” of the FEIS to about two dozen county, state and federal agencies for comment by Aug. 1.

Coronado National Forest Service Supervisor Jim Upchurch told the Green Valley News he wants to expedite issuance of the final FEIS and a Record of Decision (ROD) in order to meet the mining company’s needs. (See July 15, 2013 Rosemont Mine Truth post)

Augusta Resource Corporation, a Vancouver, B.C.-based speculative mining company is seeking permits through its Rosemont Copper Company subsidiary to blast the mile-wide, half-mile deep Rosemont mine in the Santa Rita Mountains on the Coronado National Forest southeast of Tucson. But the financially troubled company is facing a cash crisis, and is pressing the Forest Service to issue the FEIS and ROD by the end of September.

Last summer, after the public comment period on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement had closed, Augusta made significant changes to its proposed mining. Pima County and U.S. Representatives Raul Grijalva and Ron Barber asked the Forest Service to prepare a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement to address the changes and allow another round of public comment.

But the Forest Service ignored their requests.

“They appear to have chosen the Final EIS with no additional public comment even though this version of the document apparently includes significant changes and additional information that was not included in the draft version – changes upon which the public will now be unable to comment,” Huckelberry said.

Huckleberry said the draft FEIS is also misleading because it “was drafted from the perspective that certain processes and documents were completed even though they are not yet completed.”

Omissions in the draft FEIS as of July 1 included:

  • The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Biological Opinion on impacts to threatened and endangered species.
  • The National Historic Preservation Act memorandum of agreement and mitigation plan on impacts to Native American cultural resources.
  • The U.S. Army Corp of Engineers Clean Water Act Section 404 permit alternatives and habitat mitigation plan.

“These are significant processes that are not yet completed,” Huckelberry stated.

While the Forest Service is expected to include the additional information in the draft FEIS in July, the deadline for responding  remains Aug. 1.

One addition came last week when the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service provided the Forest Service with its Draft Biological Opinion (large file) of the mine’s impact on threatened and endangered species, including the jaguar. The Forest Service added the biological opinion to its draft FEIS and provided it to cooperating agencies for comment.

The Forest Service decision to publish an incomplete draft FEIS and its rush to complete the technical review of the mine comes despite sharp criticism from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) about an earlier draft of the Environmental Impact Statement.

Huckelberry noted in his memorandum to supervisors that in February 2012 the EPA “blasted the Forest Service for the inadequacy of the draft EIS.” It was so bad that the EPA gave it the lowest possible rating and called it one of the worst they had ever reviewed.

The Forest Service has acknowledged that only “minor” edits and changes were made to the draft FEIS, and Pima County staff, Huckelberry stated, quickly identified a number of significant shortcomings in the document, including:

  • Transportation: No disclosure on the impact to Pima County roads, including traffic volumes and increased maintenance costs.
  • Air Quality: Air pollution from the mine could trigger federal requirements imposing “significant costs” on businesses and the public to reduce pollution caused by other sources.
  • Dark Skies and Observatories: The draft FEIS “incorrectly” states the mine is not subject to Pima County’s lighting code and provides a “loophole” allowing the mine to exceed lighting standards for safety reasons.
  • Reclamation and Bonding: The public and Pima County will have no opportunity to comment on the reclamation plan, the mine closure plan or a reclamation bond because these issues won’t be addressed until after the FEIS and Record of Decision are issued.
  • Pit Lake: Rosemont will not backfill the copper pit after mining is completed. The pit will drain water from the aquifer, creating a toxic lake.
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6 Responses to Pima County: Forest Service is rushing to judgment and distorting information in Rosemont environmental report

  1. Barbara H. Jensen says:

    It’s unconscionable that Fish & Wildlife approve the proposed Rosemont Mine. F&W’s mission is to protect wildlife, not to serve the interests of mining companies. More needs to be said, by more people, and we must save our beautiful Santa Rita Mountains.

  2. Fergus Graham says:

    As a follow-up to an excellent and very appropriate, comment by Janice Mitich in Rosemont Mine Truth of July 15, I would like to add, that in a public meeting on June 5, an expert on water supplies in southern Arizona gave an excellent perspective on our water supply situation . As I see it, he truly made the case, based purely on the scarcity of water and irrespective of any mining laws, for disallowing the proposed mine,. Personally, I cannot see how the State can allow such a large amount of water to be wasted on a project that contributes no critical, or even important, benefit to this part of the State. Water is far more critical to our way of life than copper concentrate, which can be obtained from other parts of the country or world if we even need any of it here. And additionally, the profit, if there is any, from mining copper cannot be used to help improve our water supply because, firstly there is no more water available at any price and secondly, any profit will flow out of the country to foreign investors. There is not even a compensating royalty to the Government!
    Thank you Ms. Mitich for expounding on the water problem.

  3. Ron Bowers says:

    This action by the Forest Service is another prime example of government and industry working against the people and the invironment.
    I am not gifted enough to know what can be done( if anything) to freeze the release of the FEIS before all of the data and reports are included. But I would think that a County or Federal Court Order could be issued in the interests of protecting the people and the invironment from obvious political B.S.

  4. Robert Bodene says:

    Please accept the facts,,the Forest Service will not allow Rosemont to destroy the Forest. We need Economic growth here in Pima County , the real cause of the current economic decline in the USA is because we have exported our wealth creation. The economy of the USA can improve if we all BUY Local, BUY AMERICAN , STOP the outsourcing madness. We need jobs and Tax revenue so we can support all of you who rely on handouts to fund your anti-American socialism. We need to stand together and bring our economy home,,,STOP the unfair so called free trade,,,FAIR Trade and a FAIR Tax would help provide jobs …BUY AMERICAN and Stop buying Priuses,,BUY A VOLT,,,,

  5. Brian Turner says:

    If the US Forest Service is behaving boorishly, I think we can safely assume it’s because they are hamstrung by an ancient law enacted by Cretins: the Mining Act of 1872. But no matter. Let them expedite their little kabuki theatre – the sooner we can put Smokey in the rear-view mirror on this, the better for everyone, not the least for our sanity after so many years of intractable controversy, which has become as toxic and corrosive as a Rosemont leach pad. Thankfully the EPA is under no such pressure and appears clear-headed on the issues, particularly with respect to Rosemont’s deleterious impacts on our clean air and precious water. I’m absolutely confident that they will ultimately do the right thing, and that Rosemont in the meantime is indeed wasting its investors’ money while feeding them lie after lie. Trust the jaguar – he knew a sound investment when he found one, and he chose the Santa Ritas for a reason: those mountains have far more value to him, and for us, as an intact ecosystem than an industrial dead zone.

    • Brian Turner says:

      As we know, the local and regional offices of the EPA have expressed serious concerns over Rosemont’s likely impacts on fragile waters of the United States at Davidson Canyon and Cienega Creek, calling it “one of the worst such statements they’ve seen,” and in early 2012 advised the US Army Corps that the EPA would likely challenge the required Section 404 permit for the mine, were one issued. By apparently failing to provide much if any additional information in the FEIS on how Rosemont might be able to mitigate such impacts, the Coronado NF has all but ensured that the EPA will continue to be closely involved and to advance their concerns in Washington as the permitting process shuffles along, likely well beyond September of this year.

      Just this week, the US Senate approved Obama’s cabinet pick, Gina McCarthy, for EPA administrator. About McCarthy, Daniel Fiorino, director of the Center for Environmental Policy at American University, says: “Her nomination signals that the president really wants to deliver on his State of the Union objectives to take serious action on [pressing environmental issues], ” adding “… she knows air and climate issues very well and she’s a very strong environmentalist.” A longtime civil servant, McCarthy held the position of assistant administrator, U.S. EPA from 2009 to 2013. Prior to 2009, she was commissioner, Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection, 2004–2009. (source: Wikipedia)