Pima County (AZ) will challenge the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality’s decision last month to issue a Clean Water Act Section 401 Certification for Hudbay Mineral’s proposed Rosemont copper project.
The Pima County Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 Tuesday to appeal the state’s controversial Feb. 3 decision to certify that the Rosemont open pit copper project “will not violate applicable surface water quality standards.”
The 401 Certification is required before the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers can issue a permit under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act that is needed to begin construction of the proposed $1.5 billion project.
Pima County Supervisor Ray Carroll, whose district includes the proposed mine in the Santa Rita Mountains, said the state’s certification ignored the mine’s impacts on water pollution and reduction in stream flows.
“The water quality issues are too pervasive to ignore,” he said according to a report in the Arizona Daily Star.
Pima County’s action comes less than a month after the citizens’ coalition Save the Scenic Santa Ritas sent a letter to ADEQ objecting to the issuance of the 401 Certification.
SSSR asked the state to withdraw the certification because it was issued prior to the Forest Service releasing a Final Record of Decision (ROD) approving the mine. The Forest Service released a draft ROD in December 2013. The draft ROD may be modified by ongoing Endangered Species Act consultations between the Forest Service and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.
SSSR also noted that Hudbay is conducting additional drilling and analysis of the Rosemont ore body that may require significant alterations to Rosemont’s Surface Water Quality Mitigation Plan that is attached to the 401 Certification.
Rosemont’s Surface Water Quality Mitigation Plan was approved by ADEQ in December 2014. The plan calls for groundwater and surface water monitoring and possible mitigation plans to compensate for the reduction in water flows caused by the project.
“Rosemont does not anticipate any adverse changes to water quality or the stability of Davidson Canyon Wash or the OAW (Outstanding Arizona Water) segment as a result of the Project activities,” Rosemont’s water quality plan states. “However, as a condition of the 401 Certification and as tied to potential water quality changes, mitigation measures are proposed that are related to the replacement of stormwater and sediment based on Project site activities.”
Rosemont’s water quality plan, however, does not provide specific mitigation measures but instead offers a “general concept” with details to come in the future.
“When it is determined that mitigation is required, and to what extent, a Mitigation Plan will be prepared by Rosemont that describes the specific and appropriate mitigation measure to be implemented, including the timeline for implementation and term of the activity,” Rosemont’s water quality plan states.
Pima County may not be the only governmental body to formally oppose the state’s 401 Certification. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Army Corps of Engineers and the Arizona Game and Fish Department all raised detailed objections to the draft 401 Certification when it was circulated for public comment last year.
Toronto-based Hudbay is seeking state and federal permits to build the copper project that would impact more than 5,000 acres of private and Coronado National Forest land about 30 miles southeast of Tucson. About 3,000 acres of the CNF would be buried up to 700 feet deep beneath hundreds of millions of tons of waste rock and mine tailings.
The mile-wide, half-mile deep open pit mine would directly impact 40.4 acres of waters regulated by the federal government and indirectly impact another 28.4, according to the state’s 401 Certification.