Chuck Huckelberry

Chuck Huckelberry

The long-anticipated Rosemont copper mine was approved in March after a 12-year process involving 17 agencies, but court filings — five in the past couple of years — promise to slow things down. Pima County is piling on, too.

Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry, who has openly opposed the project for years, has voiced concerns about the impact of the mine in a 60-page memo that will be given to the the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday.

The memo, post-dated April 16, says the county had been working for years to have issues dealt with but most of the problems raised have gone unaddressed.

“The mine proposal in no way sets a standard for ‘modern’ or ‘sustainable’ mining, though that was an aspiration of the original mine proponent,” Huckelberry wrote. “The mine  comes as the product of regulatory backsliding by federal agencies and (owner) Hudbay’s dismissal of earlier promises, plans and regulations.”

As a result, he said many of the county’s concerns remain, even though officials have been working since 2006 to ensure the project would be done in a way that benefits everyone.

“After nearly a decade of controversy, it is clear that meaningful mitigation of this mine’s impacts has not been achieved,” he said.

In 2006, Huckelberry said the county asked Augusta Resource, the mine property’s owners at the time, to address five key points. When Hudbay Minerals acquired the property in 2014, Huckelberry said he shared 10 areas of concern with the new owners. Those included the use of Central Arizona Project water for the mine, managing soil resources, compliance with local dark skies ordinances, and funding additional safety, traffic and road repair improvements on Sahuarita Road and Highway 83, which runs past the mine to the south.

He said most of the items on the county’s list will not be achieved.

“Pima County investment of over a decade of work on this proposed mine has not resulted in the safeguards and meaningful mitigation that Pima County sought,” he wrote.

Water issues

Huckelberry said in the memo that mine operators have actively worked against addressing issues related to water usage.

“Pima County and others in the community have had to beat back efforts by Hudbay and others to reduce water quality protections established under State administration of the Clean Water Act,” he said.

Huckelberry also criticized the South Pacific Division of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for its reversal last month of a 2016 decision not to recommend a Clean Water Act permit for the mine.

“We have also been essentially ignored in our concerns, (and) measures we recommended to the Forest Service and Corps that would reduce the groundwater and surface water impacts has been dismissed out of hand,” he said.

The Corps said several times in its review that different matters, such as impacts to groundwater and wildlife, were outside the scope of its analysis.

“Reducing the scope of analysis to only the initial vegetation clearing, grubbing and grading has enabled the South Pacific Division to essentially ignore the very significant adverse impacts from mine development and operations, and grant the permit,” Huckelberry said.

“Their response to public comments dismisses and marginalizes Pima County concerns. If this stands up to legal scrutiny I would be surprised.”

The Corps said in an email Friday to the Green Valley News that it does not comment on pending litigation.

The purpose of Huckelberry’s memo is to ask the county supervisors, “to weigh in and direct staff on how best to safeguard diverse community interests, including health, safety and welfare” now that the mine has been approved.

Not alone

Huckelberry’s concerns echo those made by several other groups that have launched lawsuits to stop Hudbay from starting on the proposed mine east of Green Valley and Sahuarita.

On April 10, the Tohono O’odham Nation, Pascua Yaqui Tribe and Hopi Tribe filed a complaint in federal court challenging the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ decision to issue a construction permit for the mine.

“One of the primary reasons that the Pascua Yaqui Tribe opposes this mine is its impacts upon our water.” said Chairman Robert Valencia of the Pascua Yaqui Tribe in a release announcing the legal action.

“The Pascua Yaqui Tribe knows that water is precious in the desert and precious to all the plants and animals that depend upon it. The few short-term jobs that this mine will create are not worth the destruction that we will have to live with forever.”

Vice Chairman Clark W. Tenakhongva of the Hopi Tribe agreed, stating, “Culturally, any body of water is something precious and sacred and it would be culturally irresponsible for us to support any activity that would jeopardize a resource so essential to all living beings and something on which we all depend.”

According to the tribes and their lawyers, the excavation process would destroy ancestral burial sites and other cultural relics, as well as damage local wildlife.

“The long-term environmental consequences that will come from the Rosemont Mine project development far outweigh the short-term financial gains sought by the company and its shareholders,” said Austin Nunez, chairman of the St. Xavier District of the Tohono O’odham Nation.

The lawsuit joins others which have been filed against the project, including one submitted by several conservation groups March 27.

“We have no choice but to seek justice in federal court in support of our community, our health and our environment,” said Gayle Hartmann, president of Save the Scenic Santa Ritas, one of the parties in the suit.

“We will move forward and present our case, reiterating the extensive damage this project will do to our water resources and our beautiful Santa Rita Mountains.”

Rosemont’s position

Hudbay says it has worked for years to address the concerns of the community and environmentalists, and has created an extensive website detailing its position.

Strongpoint Marketing, which is representing Hudbay on any Rosemont questions, did not respond to requests for comment on Huckelberry’s memo and the recent litigation from Native American tribes.

Hudbay says on its website that the county will benefit from the project in several ways, including new tax revenue, jobs and support for local charities.

“Rosemont is expected to generate an estimated $350 million in new local tax revenues over the life of the mine,” it said. “These new tax dollars will be used to fund vital public services such as roads, public safety and education.”

The project will create 500 permanent full-time jobs, which are expected to pay twice the average wage in Pima County, and the company will donate $500,000 to local charities annually, according to the site.

The company points to efforts to mitigate water usage.

“Rosemont will also put more water back into the aquifer than we pump out by recharging CAP water,” it said.

“Rosemont will provide $28 million to help the Community Water Company of Green Valley build an eight-mile pipeline to bring CAP water to recharge the region and contribute to its long-term water sustainability.”

Work on the pipeline is underway along Pima Mine Road.

The company said more than 1,000 studies have been conducted “that have looked at possible impacts on the surrounding environment, including biological resources, traffic, water, light and air.”

Andrew Paxton | 520-547-9747