[Editors Note: The Arizona Department of Environmental Quality has now posted the updated Rosemont Mitigation Plan.]
The Arizona Department of Environmental Quality has extended the public comment period on a crucial mitigation plan for the proposed Rosemont Copper Mine but continues to refuse to publish the proposal on its website.
Save the Scenic Santa Ritas, a Tucson citizens group opposed to the mine, on Oct. 19 requested that the ADEQ to make the mitigation plan available on its website so that the public could provide informed comments and to extend the comment period 60 days from the day the mitigation plan is posted.
The ADEQ responded to SSSR on Oct. 24 and extended the public comment 14 days until Nov. 20. The ADEQ also stated in an email to SSSR President Gayle Hartmann that documents related to the mitigation plan were posted on its website. The ADEQ, however, has not posted the actual mitigation plan specifically requested by SSSR.
Instead, the agency merely kept the same documents that were already posted on its website. These documents include a brief, four-paragraph summary of the mitigation proposal submitted by Toronto-based Hudbay Minerals’ Arizona subsidiary Rosemont Copper Company.
The ADEQ summary outlines Rosemont’s latest proposal to modify a Sonoita Creek farm in Santa Cruz County so it can qualify as conservation credits to compensate for the expected loss of desert wetlands caused by its massive copper mine. The regulatory agency has already granted “conditional” approval of the mitigation plan before the proposal has been released to the public.
SSSR sent another letter on Thursday demanding the ADEQ comply with state law and post the document on its website.
“ADEQ still has not posted for the public’s review any information on the actual mitigation proposal submitted by the Rosemont Copper Project,” Hartmann states in her Oct. 26 letter.
“It is unreasonable to close the public comment period even on the extended deadline of November 20, as it appears that ADEQ’s preliminary decision is based entirely on the mitigation proposal about which the public still has no information,” Hartmann states.
SSSR, once again, requested the ADEQ “to immediately post Rosemont’s mitigation proposal on its website” and “extend the public comment period to expire 60 days after it posts the mitigation proposal for public review.”
The regulatory agency makes an oblique reference on its website that documents may be available by filing a request under the Arizona Public Records Law. It’s not clear whether the agency would make the mitigation plan available through a records request, or if it is merely making documents already posted on the website also available under a public records request.
The Arizona Public Records Law only requires the ADEQ to act “promptly” on a public records request.
“Obviously, the more time that the public spends waiting for a public records act request to be fulfilled is less time that the public has to evaluate and respond to ADEQ’s preliminary decision before the current November 20 deadline,” Hartmann states.
Rosemont’s mitigation plan for the Sonoita Creek Ranch is also a crucial element in its request to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to be granted a Clean Water Act permit under Section 404 of the law. The permit can only be legally issued if Rosemont’s mitigation plan will compensate for the destruction of wetlands expected from construction of the $1.9 billion Rosemont Mine.
The mile-wide, half-mile deep open pit copper mine would be built in the Santa Rita Mountains on the Coronado National Forest southeast of Tucson. Waste rock and mine tailings from the mine would be dumped on more than 3,000 acres of the national forest obliterating springs, seeps, washes and other desert wetlands that provide water into state protected waterways including Davidson Canyon and Cienega Creek.
Rosemont’s previous Sonoita Creek Ranch mitigation plan was deemed inadequate by a private consultant hired by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.