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Rosemont Mine one step closer as Forest Service OKs permit

The controversial Rosemont Copper Mine is one step closer to development after the Forest Service signed off on one of two federal permits needed to begin operating the open-pit copper mine in the Santa Rita Mountains about 30 miles southeast of Tucson.

Coronado National Forest Supervisor Kerwin Dewberry announced Wednesday that he had signed the Record of Decision for the Rosemont Copper Project.

The proposed project includes more than 5,400 acres of combined private lands, National Forest System lands, and areas administered by the Arizona State Land Department. The site will include an open pit mine, and the associated processing and disposal facilities for the production of copper, molybdenum and silver concentrates, said Dewberry.

Rosemont is owned by Hudbay, a Canadian mining company.

This included a decision to use the Barrel Trail Alternative, a plan that will place tailings and waste rock from the mine in the nearby upper Barrel, Trail, and Wasp Canyons, in an effort to "permanently avoid placing mine waste" in McCleary Canyon and reduce problems in Barrel Canyon, he said. 

This was one of six alternative plans that were considered and analyzed by the Forest Service, said Dewberry. 

The plan also includes a decision to amend the 1986 forest plan for the Coronado National Forest by creating a new "forest management area" that will be established in the northeast area of the Santa Rita Mountains and includes the Rosemont Copper Project area, wrote Dewberry. 

The Rosemont mine is expected to produce an estimated 5.88 billion pounds of copper, 194 million pounds of molybdenum, and 80 million ounces of silver, wrote Dewberry. This could represent approximately 11 percent of U.S. copper production and less than 1 percent of world copper production, based on 2011 statistics, he wrote. 

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U.S. Rep. Raúl Grijalva, who has been a staunch opponent of the mine, criticized the announcement, saying that the Rosemont Mine came with "grave environmental impacts" that would far outweigh "any potential economic gains." 

"The Army Corps of Engineers is still assessing this mine’s environmental impacts and whether its operation is consistent with the Clean Water Act," Grijalva said. "The Forest Service could have published a document informed by that assessment, which will be key to our community’s environmental and economic well-being. Instead it pushed out a premature decision that ignores widely understood science on Rosemont’s potential damage to habitats, waterways and land quality." 

"This was not necessary, it is not helpful, and it will not be the final word on whether this unpopular mine is built," Grijalva said. 

Patrick Merrin, vice president of Hudbay's Arizona business unit, praised the Forest Service decision, noting that Dewberry's decision concludes a "thorough" process involving "17 cooperating agencies at various levels of government, 16 hearings, over 1,000 studies, and 245 days of public comment resulting in more than 36,000 comments." 

"This decision brings us another step closer to being able to build a modern mine that will fulfill the requirements of its permits, create jobs and strengthen the local economy," said Merrin. "The Rosemont team thanks the USFS and all the other co-operating agencies for their hard work and dedication to the public interest over the past 10 years."

Hudbay will now begin working on two outstanding issues, the Mine Plan of Operations and a needed water permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. 

Dewberry's decision removes at least one major hurdle for Hudbay. 

Dewberry's predecessor approved the mine in December 2013, but held back from making a final decision after it became clear that ocelots, northern jaguars, and the Mexican grey wolf, could be affected by the mine's development. 

Gayle Hartmann, president of Save the Scenic Santa Ritas said the mine is "far from reality" and that the group will continue to fight the mine's construction in "every relevant area." 

"The stakes are too high to do otherwise," Hartmann said. 

The Forest Service decision came despite the fact that Hudbay Mining, the Canadian company that will operate the mine, has yet to receive the critical Clean Water Act permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that it needs to operate, Hartmann said. 

"The Forest Service's premature signing of the Rosemont decision document is a waste of taxpayers' money and is nothing more than a public relations victory for a foreign mining company and its investors," she said. 

Hartman said SSSR and others oppose the mine because it "will violate numerous federal and state laws and regulations" and devastate the "critically important Santa Rita Mountains watershed."

Last July, the Corps of Engineers recommended denying the mine's development under the Clean Water Act. 

"Rosemont is proposing to dig an open-pit that is a half-mile deep, and one mile rim-to-rim, piling potentially toxic mine waste 600-800 feet high covering more than 3,000 acres of the Coronado National Forest, in a vital regional watershed," Hartmann said. "It’s indisputable that this project threatens our drinking water along with critical desert aquatic habitats and must be stopped."

Hartmann wrote that along with the outstanding Clean Water Act permit, the Forest Service still has to approve Hudbay Mineral's final Plan of Operations, and the amount of a reclamation bond to "ensure that Hudbay restores the site after the completion of mining," she said.

SSSR and the Center for Biological Diversity recently sent a letter to the Forest Service asking the agency to review the impacts of two recent fires, including the Sawmill Fire, arguing that by not considering the fires’ impacts the Forest Service would be illegally issuing a final decision.

However, Dewberry wrote that the two wildland fires were included in the environmental impact statement, and that based on post-fire conditions, agency officials concluded that the EIS did not need to be corrected, supplemented or revised. 

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Jun 8, 2017, 1:56 pm
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I want to know where the Dark Money is coming from and who are the people being paid off to clear the way for a foreign mining company to mine copper in the Santa Rita Mountains. This is an open pit mine. Come out to Twin Peaks in Avra Valley and see the devastation caused by the open pit limestone mine that has left only one of the peaks.  Look at the miles and miles of wasted rock or tailings.  Such a pretty site!  But unlike the limestone pit, Rosemont will suck the watershed dry….this in a desert and we are in a 20+ year drought.  Temperatures are climbing higher and higher each and every year.  Winters are shorter and dryer, and summers are longer and dryer.  Tucson is among the top ten largest American cities in danger of running out of water in the next decade! We cannot afford to use our precious water for mining.  Please contact the US Army Corp of Engineers and demand they don’t issue a permit because it violates the Clean Water Act and endangers our water supply.  Phone 602-230-6900 for Phoenix office or go to http://www.spl.usace.army.mil/Contact/  Thank you.

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