Pima County is warning state and federal environmental regulators that Hudbay Minerals’ application for a Clean Water Act permit needed for its proposed Rosemont Mine violates federal law because it fails to describe the actual mitigation the company is planning.
In letters to the U.S Army Corps of Engineers and the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality, Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry states that Hudbay’s new plans to make major modifications to Sonoita Creek in an attempt to compensate for damages to desert riparian waterways that will be destroyed by the Rosemont open-pit mine requires public notice and an opportunity to comment.
“The Corps must issue a new public notice because the current (Clean Water Act) application does not properly describe the mitigation activities proposed,” Huckelberry writes.
Hudbay announced in September plans for a “complete restoration” of Sonoita Creek and its floodplain. The restoration project includes dredging and filling of nine acres of federally-protected waters in Sonoita Creek.
Hudbay claims that the restoration project will create enough new desert riparian areas in the Sonoita Creek floodway to not only compensate for the damage done to Sonoita Creek, but also for the damage that will be caused by the Rosemont mine.
Huckelberry states that Hudbay has not provided a detailed Sonoita Creek restoration plan making it impossible for the public to assess whether the plan will accomplish the mitigation the company promises. The Corps, Huckelberry asserts, should not accept Hudbay’s Sonoita Creek project as adequate mitigation for Rosemont without public input.
“Without more information about what (Hudbay) intends, and a chance for the public to thoroughly review and comment on that information, a decision by the Corps to accept the mitigation solely based on (Hudbay’s) representations would seem arbitrary and capricious,” Huckelberry said in the letter.
Another significant issue, Huckelberry raises, is that the Sonoita Creek restoration project is in a different watershed than what will be impacted by Hudbay’s Rosemont mine.
“Because of the geographic and hydrological disconnection between the area of impact and the Sonoita Creek mitigation site, the Sonoita Creek restoration effort will not provide any mitigation for impacts caused by the mine,” Huckelberry wrote in the letter. “While both sites are within the greater Santa Cruz River watershed, they are hydrologically separated by over 125 miles.”
Hudbay, Huckelberry points out, has rejected opportunities to provide mitigation in the Rosemont watershed. The company, he states, has declined to purchase property in the watershed that could have provided some mitigation. In addition, Hudbay has declined to make improvements to the headwaters in canyons located near three mining claims (Broadtop Butte, Copper World and PeachElgin) Hudbay controls adjacent to the Rosemont mine site.
“These headwater streams are close in proximity and very similar in nature to the headwater streams affected at Rosemont,” Huckelberry states. “The company rejected the proposal in order to maintain these areas for future exploitation.”
Huckelberry warned the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality it was acting illegally when it adopted Rosemont’s “Surface Water Mitigation Plan” without adequate public notice and an opportunity for public review. The surface water mitigation plan was included in the state’s “certification” that the Rosemont mine would meet all state surface water quality laws and regulations.
“This document was submitted to ADEQ by Rosemont Copper Company in December 2014, long after the close of the public comment period, and approximately a month prior to ADEQ’s decision to issue the Certification for the Rosemont mine,” Huckelberry states.
“Despite the failure to comply with Arizona law concerning public review and comment, ADEQ included conditions in the Certificate based on the SWMP. Because the SWMP-inspired Certification conditions resulted from a violation of Arizona law, they are unenforceable,” Huckelberry states.