Rosemont Copper’s plans to establish an open pit mine in the Santa Rita Mountains have hit a stumbling block. In a letter to the Army Corps of Engineers (ACOE) dated November 7, The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) identified "significant flaws" in Rosemont's proposed water mitigation plan, and declared the plan to be "grossly inadequate."
In order to proceed with construction, Rosemont must secure a permit through the ACOE. Rosemont’s application sought to explain how it would mitigate the damage to waterways caused by the proposed mine. The EPA, whose job includes upholding The Clean Water Act, rejected Rosemont's plan, saying that it draws "false conclusions" and provides insufficient supporting evidence for its outcomes. The EPA's letter makes reference to at least one previously rejected application from Rosemont, in January of 2013, and implies that Rosemont's new plan doesn't appear to acknowledge or address the EPA's previous recommendations.
|Map showing location and directional flow of waterways that would be affected by Rosemont’s proposed mine|
The mine's operations would be situated within the Las Cienegas Natural Conservation Area and the Cienega Creek Natural Preserve, which are protected by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). Both areas contain unique wildlife and aquatic habitat that are sustained by the area's ground and surface waters.
Conveying the enormous effect that the mine would have on those waterways, the EPA's letter states that the proposed project would directly fill about 40 acres of waters, including 18 linear miles of streams, five springs and their associated wetlands. It predicts that the groundwater draw-down from the mine pit would result in the indirect loss or conversion of (continued on page 2)hundreds of acres of riparian vegetation. and that, over time, the mine would cause a significant decline in the area's groundwater levels.
The letter was apparently released to the press by Save the Scenic Santa Ritas (SSSR), which is strongly opposed to the Rosemont mine. Morris Farr, SSSR's Vice President, summarized the importance of the EPA's letter: "This is the first time a major agency of the federal government has declared its opposition to a key permit required for construction of the Rosemont mine."
In response, Augusta Resource Corporation, the parent company of Rosemont Copper, quickly issued its own press release accusing SSSR of misrepresenting the contents of the letter and exaggerating its importance. The press release says that SSSR does not understand the permitting process, and that it is "fabricating information and attributing that information to EPA in an effort to scare our shareholders and disrupt markets." According to Augusta Resource, the recent EPA ruling was based on plans that are now out of date, and they expect a new ruling from the U.S. Forest Service in December.
Despite the confident reply, Augusta Resource has been experiencing a financial squeeze lately. The company reported cash reserves of less than $750,000 in September, and according to the company's regulatory findings, a total of $331 million pledged by two large metal conglomerates cannot be accessed until Rosemont has obtained a Clean Water Act permit. Augusta recently secured a loan of $26 million from RK Mine Finance, and repayment of loans to that company totaling $109 million will be due by October of next year. There is speculation as to whether Augusta will have the financial reserves needed to address the EPA’s concerns.
Arizona State Representative Raul Grijalva has been quoted as saying “The EPA has done the most careful, substantive and meaningful scientific analysis to date of the mine’s potential impacts. This should be the standard as this process moves forward. From now on, science is going to trump spin, and substance is going to trump salesmanship. If Augusta wants to move forward on that basis, let’s get started. Otherwise Southern Arizona needs to move on to better economic ideas.”