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Rosemont hopes ‘green’ plan wins OK for proposed mine

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Rosemont hopes ‘green’ plan wins OK for proposed mine

Company seeks support from environmentalists

  • Rosemont Copper has been working for several years to win approval for a mine on 4,700 acres of land here in the Santa Rita Mountains.
    Rob Scott/Cronkite News ServiceRosemont Copper has been working for several years to win approval for a mine on 4,700 acres of land here in the Santa Rita Mountains.

WASHINGTON —Rosemont Copper officials are pitching a “greener” approach to mining in an effort to gain support for their proposed open-pit mine in the Coronado National Forest.

“When people see mines, they see what they think looks like a giant gopher hole,” said Dan Ryan, a spokesman for Rosemont. “We’re not going to do that.”

Instead, said Ryan, reclamation efforts on the 4,700-acre Rosemont project will begin from “year one,” with native plantings and cattle ringing the mine, and water reclamation practices built in to the project.

“Rosemont Copper has put together a mining operation that has not been seen” in this country before, he said.

But opponents said they’ve seen it and heard it all before.

“There are mitigation measures that the mining company can take, and the Forest Service can take, but in the end the problem is that the mine is simply too big and too invasive for this location,” said Don Steuter of the Grand Canyon chapter of the Sierra Club.

Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Tucson, said this isn’t the first time the company has changed its mining operation. Rosemont officials change “their game plan every time there is pressure and the decision point is coming up.”

Public hearings are scheduled to begin this month on the project, which has already generated more than 11,000 comments for the U.S. Forest Service, ranging from strong support to strong opposition.

The project would cover 4,700 acres of mostly National Forest System land at the base of the Santa Rita Mountains. About 20 percent of that land would actually be used for the mine.

The company estimates that during its projected 20-year life, the mine could annually produce about 221 million pounds of copper, 4.7 million pounds of molybdenum, 2.4 million ounces of silver and 15,000 ounces of gold.

Ryan said the mine will create 450 to 550 direct jobs, and another 1,600 or so in vendors and related businesses. He said the average annual salary of those jobs would be about $60,000.

The Forest Service released a draft environmental impact statement on the project last month after studying potential environmental impacts, effects on any prehistoric and historical sites in the area, even the impact on the scientific study of celestial objects.

“Air, visual, dark skies, water … we analyzed each of those topic areas, looked at what potential environmental effects would be, how we could mitigate those effects,” said Heidi Schewel, a Coronado National Forest spokeswoman.

The Forest Service’s draft report recommended letting the project proceed under a plan that would limit mine trailings to Upper Barrel and Wasp Canyons, preserving McCleary Canyon for wildlife habitat and recreation.

Ryan said tailings will not be piled up but will be laid out at closer to what will be the finished grade once the site is reclaimed.

The pit – more than a mile across, according to the draft report – would be ringed with strategically placed greenery and cattle from an active ranch near the site, Ryan said. The reclamation plan was developed through a $600,000 grant to the University of Arizona, he said.

Environmental groups called it a step in the right direction, but said the mine will still be harmful to the environment.

“We certainly applaud the mining company for trying to do things like that, but in the end the total picture remains largely the same,” said the Sierra Club’s Steuter.

He said that besides the damage to the landscape, a mine of this size will affect water quality in the area.

“It’s unfortunate but that’s kind of the heart of the problem,” he said. “There really isn’t another major way to go about this without really impacting the eastern side of the Santa Rita Mountains.”

Steuter also challenged the mine’s job-creation claims, arguing that any damage to the environment would harm tourism, which “continues to be a very powerful economic engine for this state.”

Five public hearings on the project have been scheduled for the next 90 days. The first is Nov. 12 in Tucson, followed by hearings Nov. 19 in Tucson, Dec. 7 in Benson and Dec. 10 in Elgin. No time or place has been set for the final meeting.

Ryan said the company, which has been developing the Rosemont project since 2006, will work with any alternative the Forest Service deems to be the best.

“We can work with either alternative that the forest service sets forth for us, it doesn’t really make a difference,” said Ryan. “With the U.S. Forest Service everything is workable.”

But Grijalva still thinks this project is unworkable.

“No new changes or trying to talk around the issues are going to change the fundamental opposition that I have and many, many people in southern Arizona have to this mine,” he said.

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