Opponents of the proposed Rosemont copper mine Friday filed a lawsuit challenging the issuance of a key state water permit needed to begin construction of the open-pit copper mine in the Santa Rita Mountains southeast of Tucson.
The lawsuit, filed in Maricopa County Superior Court, challenges a decision by the Arizona Water Quality Appeals Board (AWQAB) to uphold the issuance of an Aquifer Protection Permit (APP) to the Rosemont Copper Company. Rosemont is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Vancouver, B.C.-based Augusta Resource Corporation.
The lawsuit alleges that the three-member appeals board acted “arbitrarily and capriciously” by voting to uphold an administrative law judge’s June 12 rejection of an earlier appeal challenging the APP permit.
The lawsuit, filed by private citizens and environmental groups opposed to the mine that would be constructed in a watershed that provides recharge to a primary drinking water aquifer, alleges the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) issued the permit without taking into account the mine’s impact on surface waters.
“As it stands today, the Aquifer Protection Permit for Rosemont should instead be called the Rosemont Aquifer Pollution permit,’ said Gayle Hartmann, President of Save the Scenic Santa Ritas, a citizen’s coalition opposed to the mine. “Southern Arizonans take threats to their water very seriously and that is why we are taking this action,”
The suit also alleges that ADEQ issued the permit on a mining plan that was substantially changed after the initial permit application was submitted for review.
The water quality appeals board’s “failure to require ADEQ to take into consideration clear evidence that the Rosemont facility will be built differently from the facility described in the APP application was arbitrary and capricious, as was ADEQ’s failure to consider such impacts” prior to issuing the permit, the law suit alleges.
The suit also takes aim at the three members of the water quality appeals board alleging they falsely stated they had reviewed the administrative law judge’s order, transcripts and legal arguments submitted during the administrative appeals hearing before making their decision.
“Transcripts of the proceeding indicate that the WQAB did not, in fact, review the materials they claimed,” the suit alleges.
The suit asks the Superior Court to reverse the water appeals board’s decision and require the board to review the issues raised in the lawsuit.
The appeal also requests the court to order ADEQ to consider the mine’s potential surface water impacts, the mine’s impact on biological resources which, the suit alleges, was ignored, and require ADEQ to base the permit on the actual plans for the mine rather than on plans that have been substantially altered.
The plaintiffs include the Center for Biological Diversity, Sky Island Alliance, the Coalition for Sonoran Desert Protection, Save the Scenic Santa Ritas and eight private citizens. (To download the SSSR press release, click here.)