One has to give credit to how the opponents to the Rosemont Mine have managed to turn what is in fact a very localized problem for residents along State Route 83 (the road between Vail and Sonoita) into a Tucson/Pima County issue.
As is obvious from the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) issued by the US Forest Service, the impact of the proposed copper mine is the highest in the immediate vicinity of the mine site….mostly impacting nearby Coronado Forest lands….and declining the farther away from the mine site one gets.
How many Tucsonans drive on State Route 83? Probably way fewer than drive down Interstate 10 or Interstate 19.
So one main opposition groups calls itself “Save the Scenic Santa Ritas” and their campaign would leave one to believe that the mine will visually impact what most people in Tucson and Green Valley define as their view of the Santa Ritas.
Except that is not true. No one from Tucson or Green Valley will be able to see the proposed mine or its tailings piles.
The visual impact of the proposed mine is limited to people who drive on State Route 83 or live in that area.
But mine opponents have succeeded in getting hundreds of thousands of Tucsonans believing they will be impacted…. which is not true.
One cannot compare the Rosemont proposal to the mines west of Green Valley because those tailings piles were constructed prior to there being any effective regulation on the visual design of tailings piles.
The mining engineers who designed the Green Valley tailings piles created monuments to mining engineers….and in the course of that aliented a large number of people in the state. I dislike those tailings piles like virtually everyone else in the region.
That does not mean, however, that Rosemont will get away with tailings piles that replicate the Green Valley ones.
The major difference is the Forest Service has a lot of teeth in its land use permitting process.
There was no equivalent to the Forest Service addressing the Green Valley area mine design when those mines were started years ago.
A second issue…ground water in Green Valley.
The mine has a permit from the Arizona Department of Water Resources (ADWR) to withdraw 6,000 acre feet of ground water from the Green Valley area.
Farmers Investment Company (FICO) jumped into the fight against Rosemont because the Rosemont wells are just east of FICO’s wells.
According to FICO, the world is going to end if Rosemont gets the green light to mine and begins pumping ground water from the mine’s wells.
One needs to remember that FICO pumps in the neighborhood of 25,000 to 30,000 acre feet of groundwater per year…5 times what Rosemont proposes.
FICO is under no state water law obligation to replenish the aquifer what they pump from it.
Mines and farms are exempt under current state law from having toi pay back our aquifers what they pump. Only new municipal development is under any kind of sustainability replenishment requirement.
There is a serious problem with groundwater level declines in Green Valley and that is because of FICO’s pumping for the last 50 years and the pumping by the mines west of Green Valley.
The problem is not limited to Rosemont.
To its credit, Rosemont recognized the issue and offered to do two things that they are not required to do under existing state law…they agreed to mitigate the impacts of their proposed pumping on neighboring private wells and they offered to fund a CAP recharge project in Green Valley via the Community Water Company.
FICO countered with its own proposed CAP recharge project that excludes participation of Rosemont.
Pima County and the City of Tucson jumped in behind FICO’s proposal and are working to try and block Rosemont from succeeding with its CAP recharge project.
Interesting how FICO, Pima County and the City of Tucson can object to Rosemont’s groundwater use and then turn right around and do everything they can to block Rosemont from solving the problem.
Only in Tucson can that kind of duplicitous behavior be gotten away with because the Arizona Daily Star refuses to call FICO, Pima and Tucson out in this egregious double standard.
So everyone believes Rosemont is going to cause water problems in Green Valley when in fact the leader of the opposition pumps five times the groundwater and is under no mandate to replenish its pumping and is fighting the resolution of the problem.
Instead of attacking Rosemont, Tucson and Green Valley residents need to tell FICO, Pima County and Tucson to get on board with a regional CAP replenishment project that ALL ground water users in Green Valley must participate in…Rosemont, FICO, and the mines west of Green Valley.
Pima County spent thousand of dollars creating a model of the proposed mine with graphics comparing the mine as though it were inside Tucson. A spectacular piece of prograganda…but the point is the mine is on the east side of the Santa Rita…not in downtown Tucson.
Listeing to the opposition one would think the site of the proposed mine is the last place on earth with specific environmental amenities.
It obviously was not that important a place when the Pima County committee that decided what lands to buy with Pima bond money chose not to buy the site before Rosemont got it.
You ought to take a tour of the mine site and see for youself where it is and how it relates to the surrounding area.
But as is typical in environmental fights..whatever disturbance one wishes to pursue…the site immediately becomes the last place on earth with some endangered species habitat or other attribute that demands stopping the project.
The mine involves a total of about 6 square miles of land that would be disturbed over a 20 year period.
Putting that in context…at least that much land gets bladed around Tucson annually for new subdivision and commercial development, pipelines, roads and other infrastruture.
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Looking at the DEIS there are clearly a lot of issues to be addressed in the immediate vicinity of the mine.
The DEIS identifies potential impacts which thus sets the stage for negotiations between Rosemont and the Forest Service on how those impacts might be mitigated.
Identifying environmental issues in an environmental impact statement does not automatically mean the mine project can be killed. What it means is the Forest Service and the mine will need to address the issues in whatever manner the parties agree.
Opponents of the mine who have drawn a hard line in the sand saying “no mine” may find themselves left out in the cold when the negotiations start on mitigation because they have staked their position on an extreme position and not offered any mitigation proposals.
For example, the DEIS noted that the mine’s tailings piles could be constructed in such a way as the reduce the visual impacts on forest lands and for State Route 83 area residents.
There is an opportunity here for design controls over their tailings piles that never existed on the mines west of Green Valley. Instead of “no tailings piles” there is an opportunity for “yes…but…” which the Forest Service has identified. Do the people along SR 83 want to be involved in the design criteria?
A third impact of the proposed mine is traffic on SR 83. No question there will be a major change there. The alternative would be to connect the mine to Interstate 19 via Santa Riota Road which would be a major issue for Sahuarita and Green Valley. Obviously the mine chose the least disruptive alternative that impacted the least number of people.
Of course the residents along State Route 83 object…but the bigger question is…is that your problem in Tucson and Green Valley?
Mine opponents are trying to make that your problem when in fact it is not.
The avoids a more basic issue…if there is going to be an impact on SR 83…what are the state and feds going to do to mitigate that impact?
Obviously some major improvements will be needed to SR 83 to mitigate traffic impacts. But I do not hear the mine’s opponents seriously digging into what mitigation requirements there ought to be. Should the road be widened? Should some of the tighter curves be straightened out?
My guess is the Arizona Department of Transportation (who owns that road) will try and get some mitigation measures such as adding lanes to the road on grades so mine trucks will not impede the flow of traffic and so forth.
Again we have a group of people dug in on the position of “no mine” and there is nothing coming from them in the context of “yes…but”. The Arizona Department of Transportation will be the lead on the …but” conditions…and maybe with no input from area residents if they refuse to participate in mitigation discussions.
Another local issue about the mine is downstream from the mine site. There are issues about water supply and water quality. If Rosemont’s conduct regarding the Sahuarita Heights area and their willingness to recharge CAP water is any indicator (and they are) then solutions to the water issues downstream from the mine site are attainable.
Unlike the impacted residents of Sahuarita Heights who went to the table with Rosemont to find a mitigation strategy, SR 83 residents are dug in with their “no mine” approach and are not engaged in look for ways to not only eliminate the negative impacts but to maybe even improve their water supply situation.
I’ve worked on water issues in that area and it is not like the Tucson Valley with a huge lake of underground water beneath it. It is more like a surface water system that is highly reactive to annual rainfall. Wells can go dry out there having nothing to do with there being a mine.
Point out the problem only get one half way down the road. Problems always have solutions.
SR 83 residents are betting their future on killing the mine and doing nothing to look at Plan B if (as it in fact likely) the Forest Service approves the mine’s land use permit.
The core issue driving opposition to the mine is the belief that “public” meaning federally-managed lands should not be used to mine copper.
Many view the Coronado National Forest as some kind of wilderness park that exists solely to protect endangered species of plants and animals. That belief is not the law of this country.
A major issue involves alleged impacts of the mine on endangered species. The Center for Biological Diversity has jumped into the fray demanding the Rosemont mine site be included in Chiricahua Leopard Frog proposed habitat. That and several other endangered species impacts are alleged by Center for Biological Diversity. See KUAT story
One thing consistent about Center for Biological Diversity is they are all over the country trying to block development projects using the endangered species act and litigation to try and achieve their goals.
In the normal context of conflicts between development and endangered species impacts, the end result is usually getting a mitigation plan out of the proposed development to fund species protection and recovery projects. One gives a little here to get a lot more there.
There is no doubt in my mind that Rosemont could end up being a real plus for saving the Chiricahua Leopard Frog and other endangered species in the area by tapping the mine project to buy other identified more significant habitat sites and funding recovery projects.
Absent the shrill opposition from CBD, that is likely to happen. And it is a good bet that whatever the Forest Service proposes to mitigate endangered species issue, CBD will sue to block the mitigation plans.
One has to acknowledge that the opponents of the mine have done a spectacular job of misdirecting public concern from what are very localized impacts and convincing a lot of people who really are not directly impacted by the project into thinking the mine is “their” issue.
A telling trend in the mine fight was that the opposition was very successful in getting a lot of community opposition to the mine organized early on…such as getting resolutions opposing the mine approved by local governments from as far away as Oro Valley.
But as local governments looked deeper into the issues surrounding the mine, one by one they have backed off opposing the mine because they now see what the real story is. Oro Valley re-voted recently to withdraw its opposition to the mine and went neutral.
The interesting thing to me is that Rosemont has shown an unusual willingness to work with people to mitigate the environmental impacts of the mine.
But rather than participate in that process to seek mitigation measures, Tucson, Pima County, Save the Scenic Santa Ritas, FICO and CBD keep pounding their opposition drums and attacking anyone that is willing to even try and talk to the Rosemont mine people.