Forest Service

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.

Uncorrected Forest Service errors block marble mine

A large deposit of rare, brilliant white marble sits on the north slope of the Dragoon Mountains near the small town of Dragoon, between Benson and Willcox (see location map at bottom of post). This deposit, with marble comparable to the famous Carrara marble from Italy, was mined from 1909 to 1965 and its products were used in many office buildings and homes in Arizona and California. The deposit lies within the Escabrosa formation which, when metamorphosed by an intrusive, can become very finely crystalline marble, and the Dragoon deposit is one of the best.

Dragoon-roadless-area

In 1998, Alpha Calcit Fullstoff, an international producer of ground calcium carbonate, through its American subsidiary Alpha Calcit Arizona, acquired the unpatented mining claims on the property. Pilot testing, using proprietary optical scanning technology showed that the marble was suitable for premium quality, high brightness coatings and fillers used in the production of fine white paper.

Testing continued and by 2002 the Coronado National Forest approved a Plan of Operations and a Notice of Intent (NOI) to file an environmental impact statement.

At a scoping meeting, an inexperienced Forest Service geologist failed to consider the color, physical and chemical properties of the marble that would allow production of ground calcium carbonate products. That geologist concluded that the marble deposit may not be locatable (acquired by staking claims) under the Mining Law. That conclusion resulted in a campaign by environmental radicals which caused the Forest Service to cancel the Plan of Operations.

However, following metallurgical testing at the North Carolina State University Minerals lab, which showed that the marble did indeed have special qualities, the Forest Service decided that the quarry could be operated under regulations for locatable minerals and allowed exploration and testing to continue.

During this time, Coronado National Forest was engaged in the now infamous RARE II phase of the Roadless Area Review and Evaluation program. This was a program, prompted by the Wilderness Act of 1964, to assess areas of National Forest for inclusion in wilderness areas.

The criteria for inclusion in an official roadless area include:

1. The area had to have “Natural appearing landscapes with high scenic quality.”

2. The minimum size for consideration is 5,000 contiguous acres.

3. The roadless area had to be… roadless.

In spite of these criteria, the Forest Service created the 1,164 acre, Upper Dragoon Roadless Area which contains the mine and its road.

The road into the quarry (see photo above) predates Arizona statehood. The road, originally called Dragoon Marble Quarry Road, was renamed Lizard Lane and became a dedicated county road in 1924 and is listed as Forest Service road 689 on forest maps. Notice on the photo above that there is another road going up the canyon to the left of the quarry.

Internal Forest Service memos, obtained by Alpha Calcit from an FOIA action, show Forest Service personnel writing, “The marble quarry is a drastically disturbed site that is, all soil and vegetation has been removed over an area of approximately 14 acres. The entire area is surfaced by fractured rock. This type of disturbance is not consistent with roadless area characteristics.”

A 2004 Forest Service memo states, “At the time of authorization, the site was not in a designated roadless area. The area was inadvertently included when the map was created that displayed designated roadless areas.”  If it was a mistake, it is an amazing coincidence because the boundaries of the roadless area look like they were designed to target the marble quarry.

So, the Upper Dragoon Roadless Area officially exists, blocking development of the marble mine even though it fails on establishment criteria and the Forest Service claims it was created by mistake. That “mistake” remains uncorrected. The Forest Service finally approved a new Plan of Operations in 2006, but because the property lies within an official roadless area, a very strict and expensive environmental impact (EIS) statement is required. The Forest Service says that mining will “substantially alter the undeveloped character” of the roadless area, contradicting their own memo.

Alpha Calcit estimates the EIS would cost nearly $700,000 plus $400,000 for Forest Service administration, all for a 41-acre property. Such costs would kill the project.

I attempted to get the Forest Service’s side of the story. The first two calls to the Tucson office resulted in transfers to the twilight zone. On the third attempt, I spoke to the information officer, who could provide no relevant information, but promised to find some and get back to me. I’m still waiting.

The bogged-down bureaucracy is killing jobs, capital expenditures, and tax revenue for local school districts, Cochise County, and the state of Arizona. That’s your taxpayer dollars at work.

It is time that the Forest Service correct its mistake and release the area for development.

I note that the State of Wyoming and the Colorado Mining Association have petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to invalidate the federal government’s Roadless Area Conservation Rule. The petitioners argue the U.S. Forest Service exceeded its authority in enacting the Roadless Rule by exercising power reserved solely for Congress. The roadless areas are de facto wilderness. The 1964 Wilderness Act says Congress alone designates wilderness areas.

Quarryand-road

 

QUARRY-LOCCATION-21

For more examples of Forest Service bureaucratic stupidity see:

Tombstone versus the United States

Mega-fires in Southwest due to forest mismanagement

Do we need the US Forest Service?

The Fish & Wildlife Service also has questionable programs:

Buenos Aires National Game Refuge where Endangered Species and Illegal Immigration Collide

Jaguar Listing and Habitat Designation Based on Junk Science

Do we need the US Forest Service?

We have two major federal agencies that manage federal land, the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) under the Agriculture Department and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) under the Interior Department.  Why do we need both agencies?  As far as I can tell the BLM does everything USFS does and more.  It seems that one of these agencies is redundant.

The USFS manages 193 million acres of federal land using over 30,000 employees and a budget (FY 2011) of $5.38 billion.  That works out to $27.87 per acre managed, $179,333 per employee, and  6,433 acres per employee.

The BLM manages 245 million surface acres, as well as 700 million acres of subsurface mineral estate, with about 10,000 employees, and a budget (FY 2011) of $1.1 billion.  That works out to $4,49 per acre or counting mineral estate, $1.16 per acre managed, $110,000 per employee, and 24,500 acres per employee or counting mineral estate 94,500 acres per employee.

Maybe looking at just these numbers is not a fair comparison, but it is suggestive that we are getting more for our tax dollars with the BLM.

Both agencies manage theoretically for multiple use, including mining, logging, grazing and recreation. Both agencies manage forests and sell timber.  USFS timber production has dramatically decreased since a peak in the 1980s due in part to the environmental quagmire of law suits and regulations. (See table and graph here.)  I can’t find similar figures for the BLM.

The BLM manages the subsurface mineral rights under National Forests.  Mining claims located on a National Forest must be registered with the BLM not the USFS.  Exploration and mining are subject to 36 CFR 228(A) for USFS land or to 43 CFR 3809 for BLM land.  Why two separate sets of regulations for the same activity?

The Department of the Interior includes the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Bureau of Reclamation, Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, National Park Service, Office of Surface Mining, Reclamation and Enforcement, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the U.S. Geological Survey.  It would seem to be the logical agency to manage the National Forests.

I propose that the USFS be eliminated and its duties merged into the BLM in the Interior Department.  That may result in more efficient management of our National Forests and elimination of a redundant bureaucracy.

Reorganization is justifiable solely on grounds of efficiency and economics, but there are other considerations.  While the BLM has its faults (due mainly to the current Secretary of the Interior), it is generally easier to work with and approaches things on a more pragmatic and scientific basis.  USFS seems to be guided by eco-extremist doctrine and anti-public attitude.

Even better would be for the feds to turn all national forests over to the states and let them manage the forests according to the local needs and philosophy.

 

 

Rosemont copper mine would benefit economy and community but is buried in bureaucracy

The proposed Rosemont copper mine to be developed south of Tucson will provide many benefits to the area.  According to studies, the mine will produce over 400 direct jobs and about 1,600 indirect jobs that will provide about $3 billion in increased personal income over the next 20 years.

The mine will provide local governments with tax revenues of about $19 million per year and create $700 million in local economic stimulus in such things as services, real estate, retail purchases, utilities and manufacturing.

The total physical footprint of the Rosemont mine, including the mine itself, the waste and tailings dumps and the physical plant will be about 4,440 acres which is half the size of the Sierrita mine and one-third the size of the Mission mine.   Even thought Rosemont will have a smaller footprint, it will produce more copper than the Mission mine, about 240 million pounds of copper per year versus Mission’s 170 million pounds.  Pima County wasted $13,000 of taxpayer money building its own model of the footprint.

Among the concerns with the Rosemont mine is water use.  Rosemont is projected to use 6,000 acre-feet of water per year.  To put that in perspective, the Mission mine uses about 7,200 acre-feet, the Sierrita mine uses about 29,000 acre-feet, and agriculture near Green Valley, mainly the pecan grove, uses 32,000 acre-feet per year.  According to Rosemont, “The initial source will be groundwater withdrawn from wells in the Upper Santa Cruz sub-basin of the Tucson AMA basin and replenished by Colorado River water delivered by the Central Arizona Project.”  Rosemont has already stored 45,000 acre-feet of water in the Tucson AMA.  Rosemont’s water conservation and recycling techniques should result in the mine using only 50% of the water compared to older, traditional mining and processing methods.

Rosemont submitted a draft environmental impact study (DEIS) to the U.S. Forest Service in mid-2007.  You can read the study at http://www.rosemontcopper.com/ (Click the Studies tab).  The Forest Service had originally planned to release the study in the spring of 2009, but the bureaucracy has produced delay after delay, possibly due in part to opposition from some local politicians and environmental groups.  (See Local Politicians Against Jobs.)

The Forest Service then promised to release the DEIS by the end of last year, but that was not to be.  Just yesterday, buried deeply within an obscure part of the national Forest Service’s website, the Forest Service announced that they will publish the DEIS in the Federal Register in August, 2011, and publish a decision in January, 2012.  After that there is a 90-day period for public comment.  And then the plan must go to and get approval from so-called “cooperating” agencies which includes Pima County and a bunch of state and federal agencies.

Delays such as this are unconscionable but seem to be the norm with the current administration and its policies of putting all possible impediments in the way of developing our natural resources.

The bureaucracy is exacting the cost of lost opportunity upon us at a time when we could have been enjoying the economic stimulus of a new enterprise.

 

Disclaimer: I am a retired geologist who was employed by a major copper mining company, but I have no connection to Rosemont Copper.