Santa Rita Mountains
United States | Arizona | Senoita: Augusta Resources
Canadian-backed mine proceeds despite overwhelming local opposition.
The proposed Rosemont Mine sits near the northern crest of the Santa Rita Mountains in southeastern Arizona. The open pit copper mine would have a general mine footprint of roughly 10 square miles. The mine pit, tailings dump, waste rock dump, and buildings alone account for 4,500 acres of National Forest lands subject to the 1872 Mining Law, which asserts that mining is the most important use of public lands.
The mine’s current proponent and financier is Augusta Resources, a Canadian junior mining Company which has never operated a successful mine but has left a wake of environmental problems at one that it tried to develop in Sardinia, Italy. Despite the 1872 Mining Law originally intending to settle the west by American homesteaders and small scale miners, today the law is the very basis for the Rosemont Mine moving ahead despite overwhelming local opposition and insurmountable environmental impacts, particularly involving water and recreation (such as the Arizona Trail which would need to be rerouted away from the mine).
The Draft Environmental Impact Statement Issued by the Coronado National Forest determined that 63 surface springs, essential to rare wildlife such as the jaguar, would be destroyed. Seasonal streams and creeks below the mine site would no longer flow, potentially impacting vegetation and trees also critical to wildlife. The mine would create a “sink” around the pit, lowering the water table in the region as groundwater is continually pumped from the pit in order to operate the mine. This water would then be sent to an offsite groundwater storage location – part of the Central Arizona Project water management system – but this would have no recharge benefits to the Santa Rita Mountains, leaving many nearby residents with water wells that may become useless. This harsh reality, as well as the scenic and health impacts of a mega-mine, have already affected real estate prices, and some have already moved away before their losses become unacceptable.
In June 2013, Earthworks visited numerous stakeholders vehemently opposed to the project, including ranchers, religious leaders, equestrians, and retirees living within a few miles of the mine site. From their stories, it became clear that there are very few people on the east side (the mine side) of the Santa Rita Mountains that support the mine. There is also major opposition from agricultural interests on the west side of the range, near Green Valley – an area just miles from two major operating copper mines.
The mine spurred the creation of a nonprofit group called Save the Scenic Santa Ritas, which has a bipartisan Board of Directors and enjoys the support of Pima County Supervisor Ray Carrol. Other groups, such as the Sky Island Alliance, Center for Biological Diversity, and the Arizona Mining Reform Coalition, are also involved with the fight against the Rosemont Mine.
On December 12, 2013, Augusta Resources announced it has received a key permit from the Coronado National Forest needed to build the mine.
However, the US Environmental Protection Agency has the ability to deny the mine's Clean Water Act permit, and isn't necessarily bound by the 1872 Mining Law. In an April 14, 2015 letter, EPA notified the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that the Arizona regulatory agency's "certification is unlikely to provide sufficient measures to safeguard the water quality of the Cienega Creek watershed, including stream reaches" that, under Arizona law, are designated as outstanding waters and cannot be degraded.
In early May 2016, a revised biological opinion was issued by the US Fish and Wildlife Service which found that the mine"“is not likely to jeopardize the continued existence" of a dozen threatened and endangered species including the only known wild jaguar in the U.S." While not the decision hoped for, allied groups believe this lays a strong foundation for legal challenges, and we remain hopeful that the decision will be struck down in federal court. Major challenges also remain with the Pima County air quality permit needed to construct the mine.
For more information:
- Save the Scenic Santa Ritas
- Earthblog Earthworks tour of the Arizona Copper Belt
- Earthblog 1872 Mining Law Backs US Forest Service Into Corner, Again
- Arizona Star Rosemont Mine’s groundwater permit upheld in latest challenge
- Sky Island Alliance Rosemont Mine
- Jaguar roves near Rosemont Mine site
- Rosemont Mine EIS Process Violating Federal Law
- Rosemont Environmental Impact Statement