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.