Forest Service closing in on final Rosemont report

In a meeting for press and legislators on Friday, November 16, Coronado Forest Supervisor Jim Upchurch announced that the Forest Service would not be releasing its Final Environmental Impact Statement on the Rosemont copper project in December, 2012, as planned. He would not speculate on a new date for the report. The Forest Service released its Draft Environmental Impact Statement in October, 2011, and has since received more that 25,000 comments from the public according to Upchurch. Upchurch is being very cautious and thorough to make sure the Forest Service meets its responsibility according to law. At the meeting, both opponents and proponents of the mine expressed frustration on the length of the process.

To begin mining, Rosemont Copper must obtain approvals and permits from local, state, and federal agencies. Rosemont started the process in July, 2006. I commented on this bureaucratic quagmire in my post: Mining and the bureaucracy.

Upchurch attributed the delay to pending action by several agencies:

U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) is considering listing as endangered, or imposition of critical habitat for the jaguar, ocelot and several other species. Under the Endangered Species Act, the Forest Service must complete a “section 7 consultation” with FWS before it can issue a decision. Upchurch anticipates a decision from FWS in January or February, 2013. Note that Arizona Game & Fish recommends that FWS withdraw its proposal for jaguar critical habitat (see here), because “conservation of the species is entirely reliant on activities in the jaguar’s primary habitat of Central and South America to be successful. Lands in Arizona and New Mexico make up less than one percent of the species’ historic range and are not essential to the conservation of the species.”

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is still considering air quality impact due to particulate matter that may be released by the mining operation. Rosemont will submit updated air quality models this month. It is anticipated that Arizona Department of Environmental Quality will issue its air quality permit in December, which will probably show that Rosemont is in compliance with all state and federal regulations.

The Forest Service must coordinate with the Corps of Engineers concerning impacts on waterways, but this is somewhat of a circular argument since the Corps of Engineers can’t issue an opinion until it sees the Forest Service’s Final Environmental Impact Statement.

There are issues with 11 Indian Tribes. The mine site is alleged to contain up to 80 cultural sites, including burial sites, that must be considered and mitigated according to the National Historic Preservation Act.

Upchurch said that the process is about 85% to 90% complete. That would seem to preclude calls for starting all over again, something which Pima County and Representative Ron Barber have been promoting. Upchurch also said that the water issues are “mostly” resolved. What remains are mitigation for possible impacts to a few nearby water wells. Upchurch sees nothing in the water issue that would preclude the Forest Service from issuing its final report.

At the meeting, one “reporter,” John Dougherty, producer of an attack documentary film against Rosemont, several times commented that Rosemont’s proposed dry stacking method for tailings would result in the largest such dry stacked tailings dump in the world. Dougherty was implying some imagined danger. However, dry stacking of tailings is a much more stable method than conventional wet tailings. It also saves and recycles water. (See my post on dry stacking here.) This is an example of one of the many spurious issues with which Rosemont and the Forest Service have to contend. Dougherty’s comments got no traction from Upchurch.

In general, Upchurch said that as they get more and more information, the information shows that the mining project will have fewer detrimental impacts than some fear or allege.

See reporter Tony Davis’ take on the meeting in the Arizona Daily Star here.

As Tony quoted me in his article: “The process to approve this mine seems endless, and many people are frustrated. ..Maybe it means the laws controlling the process need to be changed.” Indeed, much of the delay is caused by inefficiency and lack of coordination in and among federal agencies. The Rosemont saga is nearing its seventh year in bureaucratic purgatory. Meanwhile, the projected benefits for jobs and our economy remain deferred.

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31 comments

  1. I would like to commend the U.S. Forest Service for the excellent job they have done on the Rosemont Copper EIS.

    I am confident that the remaining issues can be resolved over the next several months, allowing this 21st century mining project to become a reality.

  2. If allowed to proceed, the Rosemont Open Pit Copper Mine will be a societal disaster. Increased truck traffic on the Sonoita Highway will become hazardous.
    The value of privately owned real estate located near the mine will
    decrease due the the mine’s negative external influence on those
    residential properties. The Pima County Assessor assigns an across the
    board reduction in full cash values of properties located near the open
    pit copper mines in the Green Valley area and will have to come up with
    one for the Rosemont Open Pit Copper Mine, if it is every dug. The
    water table will be drawn down to the point that many nearby private
    wells will be sucked dry. All this, for what? Some short term jobs? To ship the copper overseas? I say, male cow feces to this misbegotten mine proposal. The mine should NOT be approved.

      1. The mine will take value by creating a detrimental external influence on nearby properties. This is due to dynamite noise and temblors, due to higher traffic counts on the Sonoita Highway, due to impaired views and due to sucking the water table down and probably drying up wells. Just the perception that the mine is going in will repel buyers of nearby properties, so the negative influence is likely already being realized by property owners. While this does mean that property taxes will be lower, more importantly it means that property owners will not be able to sell their properties for as much as they would have been able to without the Rosemont Open Pit Copper Mine. Focus on whatever facts you think will justify another one of your mistaken opinions, J.D., but this Mine should NOT be approved. If it is, neighboring property values will be taken.

      2. If property owners can prove values are taken, then the owners have a case against the mine for compensation. In most cases like this, the history shows that mining companies will compensate the affected owners.

      3. Best solution for nearby property owners. DO NOT DIG THE PIT! It will be an environmental, a societal and a regional disaster. Hopefully there are legal specialists who are now compiling information to file damage claims in court, if the mine proceeds.

    1. According to U.S. census figures the population of Green Valley has grown from 7,999 in 1980 to 12,960 in 1990 to 17,283 in 2000 to 21,391 in 2010.

      The population of Sahuarita grew from 3,242 in 2000 to 23,259 in 2010.

      The Mission, Sierrita and Twin Buttes copper mines south of Tucson commenced operations in 1956, 1959 and 1969, respectively.

      These mines were present long before Green Valley and Sahuarita began their rapid growth. Why are developers still building homes in this area? They wouldn’t build these homes if people weren’t buying them. If mining was so bad, why are people still moving to Green Valley and Sahuarita?

      1. Ask the people moving there, Horquilla. I wouldn’t move near mine tailings if somebody paid me and gave a free house to me. You might also ask the Green Valley and Santo Tomas people, who’s yards were covered with high silica dust blown from those open pit mine tailings, if they would move there again. The point is that real estate located close to mines (not all of Green Valley or Sahuarita is located within a mile of the tailings) suffers from impaired value due to the noxious influence of the open pit copper mines. The market performance proves that, and the Pima County Assessor applies about a -10% external depreciation to real estate located close to the Green Valley open pit copper mines. Then, dig the Rosemont Open Pit Copper Mine and the nearby real estate values will be diminished. That is a fact of the real estate market’s performance, demonstrated by the existing open pit mines in the Green Valley area. Just as important if not more so, the Rosemont Open Pit Copper Mine will destroy a beautiful, environmentally sensitive area and permanently impair the view along the Sonoita Highway. The environmental damage it will do, the drop in the water table, the more hazardous traffic on the Sonoita Highway, combined with negatively impacting real estate values, all those things make the Rosemont Open Pit Mine a very bad idea that should be denied approval.

      2. The mines existed before Green Valley did and the population has flourished. If mines are such filthy neighbors, why didn’t the people choose to move to the 99.9% of the rest of America and Pima Co. that do not have mines? Why do they build homes long after the mines if mines drive down property value? The entire real estate market has dropped in recent years – do the mines have that much influence?
        The fact is the mines have provided jobs and money for the people and businesses that are in the area. In fact, I predict that once Rosemont is in business, the area will grow in population. There will be homes established a lot closer to the mine than the few homes that are currently nearby.

      3. The environmental engineer at the mine near my home, a person who now works for Rosemont, many years ago instructed me to call them whenever I see visible dust over the mine. They take great precautions to prevent dust emissions, especially when blasting, due to the high penalties they must pay for dust emissions by law.

      1. If a property is located within the Assessor’s radius of negative external depreciation caused by an open pit mine, there is a minus adjustment applied to your full cash value. You can identify that number on your property record card at the Pima County Assessor’s web site.

        What does “close” mean, Coping?

        Each year full cash values may very well increase, IF the overall market data indicates that real estate values are increasing. During the past four years or so, full cash values decreased steadily to reflect what happened in the real estate market, after the lack of effective regulation enabled the financial market’s risky speculation crash of real estate values.

        Pointing to the “Assessor has never done anything but continuously raise our property taxes by leaps and bounds” demonstrates a lack of understanding of property tax policies. The Assessor does not establish taxes. The Assessor determines full cash values each year via mass appraisal techniques. Taxing authorities (the State of Arizona, Pima County, school district boards, special improvement districts, etc) determine what tax rate to apply to the Assessor’s full cash values. During years of diminishes full cash values, taxing authorities may raise tax rates and collect more taxes than the year before from owners of properties with lower full cash values.

        Just because an open pit copper mine is willing to respond to calls notifying the company about dust blowing off their tailings pile is no endorsement of living near an open pit copper mine. It certainly is not factual proof that an open pit copper mine is a neutral influence on nearby property values. The Assessor’s application of negative external influence adjustments is factual proof of market data supporting diminished values near open pit copper mines. Blowing dust contributes to buyer aversion toward residences located in areas where tailings dust is a problem.

        The Rosemont Open Pit Copper Mine should not be allowed to dump square miles of tailing on the Coronado National Forest, or drain ground water, or diminish nearby real estate values, or increase vehicular traffic on the Sonoita Highway, or impair wildlife habitat on public land.

  3. Take a good look around at other open pit mines like Green Valley, Ray, etc., and ask yourself if we really need yet one more of those open pits? Myself, I see no good reason at all to repopulate the old village of Helvetia.

    1. If they own the mineral (property) rights, and they comply with all Federal, State and local laws, they have the right to develop the property. No matter if they’re Canadian, Mexican, Chinese, African, Miners, ditch diggers or any other group people don’t like. The law is blind and applies the rules for all equally…..or at least our government was conceived for it to be so.

      1. Law … particularly the archaic mining law of 1872 … is far, far from being blind, minador! That law provides a prejudiced favorable economic benefit to mining companies that steals property rights from the United States citizens by allowing inordinately advantageous exploitation of mineral resources from public land. Many laws play favorites due to strong lobbying efforts by private interests. Farmers receive extremely favorable treatment from friendly laws that do not apply to other businesses. There are dozens of other examples.

        If the Rosemont Open Pit Mine is allowed to proceed, public land will have square miles of over burden waste dumped on it. Such a volume of barren dirt will have a negative impact on public land. That detrimental treatment of everyone’s land is certainly NOT from a blind law that applies rules equally. If I wanted to dig a large basement for a new house and dump the dirt on Forest Service land, I would not be allowed to do so, because unequal rules have a view focused favorably on the mining industry.

      2. Yes, it’s old like the archaic Bill of Rights. The truth is the 1872 Mining Law has been modified by 140 years of case law. It’s not static. And what about the numerous environmetal laws, which are much more recent – should we ignore those because a project is politically correct?

        What other laws should ignore the law? Who gets to choose?

        Why don’t we follow the rules we have created? Why have mining, environmental, commerce laws, etc., if the bureaucrats can ignore them on a personal whim?

        Well if everybody doesn’t like it happening to “their land”, they should change the law. If everybody didn’t like the law, it should be easy to change. We are not a dictatorship or pure democracy. We have a process Ricardo, a government structure that has made us the most powerful nation in the world. If we ignore the law to punish people we don’t like, then in short order, we will become a Banana Republic.

        One of the biggest opponents to Rosemont is the Abby down the road, who somehow bought USFS land in another “unequal” manner. Except in that case, people who had legal mining claims were booted off the land. Nobody is being booted off in the Rosemont case. When those property rights were violated, I didn’t see anybody defend the miners. It was a pretty shady deal, but not one that that our impartial media noticed.

      3. Fine, so let them develop the copper mine the same way copper is mined in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Let them sink a mine shaft and remove the ore the same way, through a narrow mine shaft in the ground and leave the landscape as untouched as possible. There is no excuse for open pit mines beyond the greed of those doing the mining.

  4. Man bringing in millions of dollars a year for the local economy as well as thousands of jobs is a terrible idea……………..let’s shut them down.

    1. Ask the neighboring property owners how they feel about the open pit’s driving their real estate values down and having to drill their water wells deeper. Ask drivers on the Sonoita Highway how they feel about intensified traffic hazards. Ask the businesses in Sonoita that will loose tourist business, because visitors will avoid the Sonoita Highway route and by pass Sonoita in favor of more pleasant views and less hazardous highways. “It’s going to create jobs.” is NOT an accurate mantra to justify this terrible project that will permanently impair a large chunk of public land to the primary financial benefit of a foreign company and with the copper being mainly shipped to China. You’re right on, Mike T, shut them down!

      1. The value of property has dropped all across the nation, it is called a recession, they didn’t have a problem when their property values were at an all time high in 2008. Business in Sonoita will see an increase, or at least stabilization of business because more people will move in the area because money breeds growth. I’d bet the county would widen the roads due to revenue and traffic. Let us not forget the revenue in taxes that will decrease property taxes and provide more funding for education, but that isn’t important right. As far as your comment on who they choose to sell their copper to, what does it matter they can’t move a mining job out of the area, therefore JOBS TAXES. Ask cities like San Manuel if they are better off ten years ago when the mines shut down, or now that the mines are re-opened?

      2. Ask the San Manuel survivors of smelter smoke related diseases, those families who lost loved ones due to increased diseases from exposure to copper’s noxious consequences. Is San Manuel’s mine open? I thought it was closed, permanently?

        Just because real estate values dropped across the nation is NOT the reason that properties located close to the mine will experience larger declines in values, compared to real estate located away from an open pit copper mine. The Rosemont Open Pit Copper Mine is detrimental to neighbors. The short term financial benefits do NOT outweigh the long term negative impacts that the Mine will have, if it proceeds.

        I am hopeful that litigation will halt this lousy project.

      3. Sorry I meant Morenci. You are in favor of continuation of wasting tax payers dollars fighting this, just because you don’t like it. They follow all the EPA requirements, what more do you want from them? Are you providing jobs, revenue, funding schools, stimulating the economy? If you are awesome keep doing it, if not you have no leg to stand on, you are just spending more money.

      4. Right you are – the mines provide millions in taxes to our schools, as well as a lot of volunteer work, gifts and grants. Our schools would be in a lot worse shape without the hundred$ of million$ from the mines.

    2. And when the copper and the miners are gone? We are left with one grand pit. Back east, at least the open pit coal mines are required to be filled in. Why aren’t the mining companies required to do that in AZ?

      1. You don’t fill in the pit because it’s not feasible to do so. The coal pits (shallow strip mines) back east are nowhere deep as a copper mine. So they can afford to fill in the small areas, plant vegetation, sell the real estate or create farms (on formally shallow, stony non-arable ground) – if they don’t fill it, they are left with a worthless hole….

        They own the property and do what is right for the bottom line.
        If they law says they have to fill them in, they probably already did so and didn’t feel the need to lobby and fight the law. It’s probably not the law in all states because back east most quarries aren’t filled in (again because they are very often much deeper than a strip coal mine…).

        If you looked closely into the subject, you would find that the huge organizations running mines out west are more diligent at following or exceeding environmental rules, compared to small coal mines back east.

      2. Being a land owner in no way permits anyone to develop their land in whatever way they wish. That’s why there are zoning laws among others. One of the biggest concerns I would expect, is water allocation. The ore needs water in the mining process in order to be made a marketable product. Water resources are extremely limited in this part of the world. Not so very far away Arivaca has allocated four to ten times the available water, depending on whose numbers you use. Now they face some really difficult choices. This mine will deplete a significant amount of the underground aquifer, something not easily replenished in a geographic locale that gets less than 20″ of annual rainfall in a good year.

      3. Well, that is the very issue here. Are they meeting the “zoning” requirements? Rosemont is meeting or exceeding all the environmental, land-use regulations required of them, yet the opponents want to ignore those rules and deny them equal protection under the law. The law allows them to deposit overburden on public lands as long as they meet all the regulations (relatively new environmental regulations – it’s not decided by the 1872 mining law).

        The USFS has said that their hands are tied by the law – they can’t stop the mine if the mine meets all the hurdles set before it. In addition the USFS has said there is very little left that the mine has to correct in its plan, so it looks like the project will be a reality.

        The Federal Government has closed 70% of Federal lands from mining development. Rosemont and others have gone to the remaining 30% to develop the minerals we need. Rosemont showed good faith by doing their work and spending Million$ of Dollar$ on “locatable” lands. Now mine opponents want our public servants to ignore the law and pull the rug out from under a business that will provide much needed jobs.

        These mine opponents offer no solution to the problem of unemployment, other than saying they’re in favor of sustainable jobs. They only offer words and can’t demonstrate where their ideas work. The claim that tourism will make up the difference in jobs has never worked in rural areas! Look at other public lands where industry was pushed out and the promise made that tourism would make up the difference: in every case the jobs never materialized.

        Regarding water: Rosemont has already been recharging water they plan to use. They have secured the water rights to develop their mine. They own the water they plan to use. And they have a plan to finally bring the Green Valley allocation of CAP water, something that other, long-established deep-pocketed water users have never offered to do. These same businesses already use much more water than Rosemont will use, yet in decades these wealthy businesses did nothing to help Green Valley get their CAP water. The local water utility has recognized Rosemont’s plan to bring CAP water as a benefit to the region.

        It will not affect Arivaca. Arivaca is upstream from Rosemont and it’s physically impossible for the Rosemont pit to lower the aquifer in Arivaca. Arivaca is in no way related geographically to the mountains or water systems of Rosemont. Check a map.

      4. I mentioned Arivaca has an allocation problem and in no way implied(or meant to imply) the two sites were connected by an aquifer.

        Zoning laws in urban areas have the option of disallowing buildings or businesses that do not fit in aesthetically. That would be my own primary objection. The various zoning boards and agencies involved can very well deny a mining business permits for aesthetic reasons alone. Don’t believe it? Try building a radically unconventional looking home in a neighborhood of conventional homes. Aesthetics matter. An open pit mine will alter forever the aesthetics of the Santa Ritas.

        I think the people of the community always have the final say as to whether they believe it’s a good trade-off to permit a business organization to irrevocably alter the landscape for centuries to come with an open pit mine in exchange for some temporary, mostly manual labor jobs and a handful of cash. The people of Pima County and the surrounding area are getting short changed by any yardstick.

        Make them dig a conventional mine with mine shafts that don’t disfigure the land and I’m sure many objections to a new mine would disappear. Copper is mined this way in Michigan’s upper peninsula and I would guess in other areas as well. Short of that or completely filling in the hole they make, I cannot see myself inclined to support this mine.

      5. Sorry I misunderstood your comment about Arivaca and implied you thought it would be affected by this project. I didn’t mean to do that – I just misunderstood you…

        I’m glad that’s all you had to rebut about my points of water ownership and Rosemont’s leadership in development of CAP for Green Valley.

        Sure, zoning laws can affect every sort of project. I think you’re correct about that. I DO BELIEVE THAT. But you must be confused if you think that Rosemont is violating “zoning” requirements. That seems to be your point in bringing up the zoning laws…

        In this case we’re talking about Federal land that is designated for mineral entry; land which has a history of significant mineral production. So much so, there was a smelter on site.

        So the land is open for mining – it’s not restricted from open pit mining by any zoning laws.

        You’re making my point for me. In no way is this a violation of the land use, as long as they meet all the requirements necessary to develop a mine.

        And Rosemont is meeting or exceeding all the laws required – any place the current plan does not meet the standard, they have to change the plan to be in compliance before a permit can be issued and construction can begin.

        The things that can stop this mine are the collapse of metal prices, insurmountable technical problems which affect economics or environmental impact, marginal economics whereby they can’t get financing, etc.. But it is illegal to simply ignore or misapply the law because of discrimination against the mine operator.

        The current laws say Government agencies cannot deny this mine based on aesthetics, no matter if you believe they can.

        Places determined to be too important for society are part of the 70% of Federal lands that have, over the last century, been closed to mineral entry. And that’s just protected Federal lands – there are State, County and City lands which are protected from mine development, of which the Rosemont area is not part of!!

        Pima County and Green groups had the chance to buy the private portion of the mine to protect it, for a price much less than Augusta paid for it. The Government had its chance to withdraw this land from mineral entry. Had they done so, the remaining public land portion would have not been enough to develop a mine on. They failed to protect it, so it is still open for mineral entry.

        It’s past the time to withdraw the land from mineral entry.

        Not all locals are against this project. I know one large land owner, one of the mine’s closest neighbors, who is in favor of the mine (and no, he doesn’t work for Rosemont). Local people do have a say about the project; however, they cannot be allowed to usurp the rule of law. What you think doesn’t change the law nor will your personal views affect a court case if you have an incorrect understanding of how a process works.

        Concerned locals can voice their objections, and any valid concerns they have will be incorporated into the best plan selected by the USFS. It is not me who is saying this project has fewer detriments than some people fear. It is the manager of the process who is saying this. Rosemont wants all concerns brought up, so they can address any issues they have overlooked. They don’t want to find out later that there are problems that will cost them money later. They want everything up front so they can plan accordingly.

        The long and short of it is people like you want to change the rules midstream. The American way is to change the “zoning” laws BEFORE you stop a process that is already in the works. You have lost this fight and must focus on changing all the environmental and mining laws involved, to prevent future mines from being developed on the remaining 30% of Federal land open for mining. Once you do, more jobs will be exported overseas and we’ll be 100% dependent on foreign sources for more of the raw materials we need.

        Every mining company has a different operating philosophy and Rosemont Copper isn’t interested in an underground mine – as should be their right as the owner. I’m pretty sure it’s not even feasible for this deposit if they wanted to.

        I’m not aware of any operating underground mines in Michigan – I’m pretty sure those have been shut down long ago, except for a few one or two man operations. The USGS doesn’t show any production from Michigan, it’s so little. I think there is one open pit mine in development, but no underground mines in operation.

        There hasn’t been any underground copper mines in Arizona since Mission Mine closed its u/g back in the early 2000’s. There are some in development, but Rosemont is destined for open pit mining. Enjoy the weekend.

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