Decision Expected on Open Pit Mine near Tucson
PHOENIX - Approval for a vast open-pit copper mine in the Santa Rita mountains 30 miles southeast of Tucson is expected soon from the U.S. Forest Service, but the Rosemont Mine faces several more regulatory hurdles before construction could begin.
Eva Sargent, Southwest program director with Defenders of Wildlife, says the Forest Service has little leeway because of the 1872 federal mining law.
"It's really hard for the Forest Service to say 'no,' but that's not the end of the game," she said. "The company can't go ahead without a permit to pollute the air, which is being appealed. They need a permit to pollute the water, which is not going very well for them."
The mining company says the Rosemont Mine would produce hundreds of jobs, add tax revenues and a secure domestic source of copper. Sargent counters that it isn't worth the effect on the region's groundwater supply and the resulting damage to area ranchers, the tourism industry and wildlife.
Mine opponents say the deep pit would negatively affect some 900 private wells in the area. Sargent says the mine would act as a "big drain, draining water out of the entire region."
"You know, the mine is miles across," she warned. "It's big enough to put the entire U of A campus into it. And it'll leave this, basically, toxic lake that cannot be fixed."
She adds that the mine would be located in the middle of habitat for creatures such as the jaguar and the southern willow flycatcher, which would be poisoned if they happened to drink water remaining in the pit.
Sargent says it isn't only conservation groups that are against the mine. There's also opposition from local governments.
"The county's against the mine, the Tohono O'Odham are against the mine, the Pasqua Yaqui are against the mine," she said. "Arizona Game and Fish filed very strong objections to the mine: they say it'll make the north end of the Santa Ritas virtually worthless as wildlife habitat."
The mining company disagrees, saying it has mitigation plans to protect water flows, wildlife habitat and recreation.
It's been six years since the mine was first proposed.