In its efforts to try to stop development of the proposed Rosemont Copper mine, Pima County has spent more than $65,000 on studies, analyses and a three-dimensional model of the mine that would be in the Santa Rita Mountains southeast of Tucson.
According to county documents, spending has included $8,700 to a University of Arizona professor of atmospheric sciences to conduct air-quality monitoring, review Rosemont Copper’s air quality permit applications and evaluate the U.S. Forest Service’s Draft Environmental Impact Statement. When it was issued, the contract value was set not to exceed $50,000.
The county paid $42,000 to a hydrologist based in Reno, Nev., to study the possible effects on ground and surface water from the proposed mine.
Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry’s office also paid $13,895 to a company based in Fillmore, Calif., to build a three-dimensional model.
Those supporting the mine have criticized the county’s efforts to try to stall or stop development of the mine.
“Pima County shouldn’t be spending any taxpayer money on the Rosemont project, when third-party consultants have already weighed in on this subject any number of times,” said Sydney Hay, president of the advocacy group Arizona Mining and Industry Gets Our Support (AMIGOS).
Hay responded via email, requesting that Inside Tucson Business submit questions electronically.
In May, her group requested from Pima County records that show bills and invoices from contractors that have done work on the county’s behalf regarding the Rosemont Mine proposal.
Hay argues that Rosemont Copper would bring jobs and economic development to the region and that county actions appear aimed at hindering the proposal.
“So, any amount of money they (Pima County) spend is excessive and a waste of taxpayer dollars. In that respect, it certainly appears that the county is stalling,” Hay wrote.
Huckelberry said the accusations are overblown.
“To elevate our role as one to stop this project is grandiose,” Huckelberry said, adding that the county’s role in the mine’s approval process is limited because the federal government will make the final decision.
Huckelberry also defended the spending on consultants, saying the county has an obligation to make sure the claims Rosemont Copper makes are accurate. The county often doesn’t have the scientific expertise in analyzing the claims of applicants, which is why outsiders are hired, he said.
“We can’t take a ‘trust us’ approach,” Huckelberry said.
Pima County Supervisor Ray Carroll, who represents the area of the proposed mine and an outspoken critic of it, said the county was right to conduct its own studies.
“It is a fair amount of money to taxpayers of Pima County, but we have to double-check all the information Rosemont puts out there, especially because of their track record,” Carroll said.
He cited an informational meeting Rosemont Copper organized early in the proposal’s stages where, as he described it, “they stacked the audience with people from depressed parts of Pima County.”
The relationship between Pima County and Rosemont Copper has been far from affable ever since.
This month, Rosemont Copper filed a civil lawsuit against the county in an effort to get the county to move on issuing an air-quality permit for the mine.
Rosemont officials declined to comment for this story, citing the ongoing lawsuit.
The company first announced plans to explore copper mining in the Santa Rita Mountains in 2007. Their proposal has been met with opposition from residents concerned about the appearance of the mine and the potential impacts on water-table levels and environmental groups that say the mine would displace native and endangered species.
The economic impact the mine would have on the region has been estimated at $9 billion over the 21-year lifecycle of the mine.
The mine would employ nearly 500 full-time workers and support thousands of jobs indirectly, according to economic estimates.
Estimates show the mine would pay $3.5 million annually in property taxes to Pima County along with $110 million in one-time construction sales taxes during the building phase.
Carroll cast doubts on such estimates, saying the magnitude of the proposed mine’s impacts mandate that the county conduct its own studies.
“You can’t go off all their studies, all their statistics, all their prospects, because it’s all puff,” Carroll said. “A lot of people are starting to see this as the Rosemont-Rio Nuevo-baseball stadium proposal — not a lot is coming from it.”
Contact reporter Patrick McNamara at email@example.com or (520) 295-4259.