The U.S. Forest Service announced in the Federal Register that it expects Coronado National Forest officials to deliver a Record of Decision on the Rosemont Copper project in early June. The Record of Decision is one of two long-awaited key decisions on the $1.9 billion project in the Santa Rita Mountains near Tucson, AZ.
The announcement indicates Coronado National Supervisor Kerwin Dewberry is expected to sign the decision that will set the conditions that the mine must meet in order to proceed. This would be the final decision on a proposed federal Clean Water permit application to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers as the final hurdle for the project. The Corps has said repeatedly in recent months that it has no timetable for a decision.
Opponents of the project argue the Record of Decision is premature considering the Clean Water Act permit has not been completed.
The Arizona Star reported that because the Corps has not issued a timeline opponents of the mine have criticized the Forest Service’s stated intent to move forward on its decision. Save the Scenic Santa Ritas and the Center for Biological Diversity said in news releases the decision will be premature because without a Corps decision, the Forest Service won’t know whether the mine will meet all federal laws. The service has said it must approve the project if it shows it can meet all environmental laws.
Last July, a lower-level Corps office recommended the mine permit be denied.
If the mine is approved, it would become the U.S.’ third-largest copper mine, employing up to 450 people full-time and operating for 19 years, said the mining company’s latest feasibility study, released at the end of March. It has been hailed as an economic boon by many local business leaders and has strong support from Gov. Doug Ducey.
The mine would operate on 995 acres of private land, 3,670 acres of Forest Service land and 75 acres of state land.
The Forest Service had planned to make a final approval of the mine in spring 2014, after issuing a preliminary approval in December 2013. The final decision was delayed after the discovery of an endangered ocelot near the mine site in April 2014. But the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued a formal biological opinion in 2016 saying that it doesn’t expect the mine to jeopardize the existence of any endangered species or to seriously damage critical endangered species habitat.
Hudbay officials had previously said the company had paid $48 million to buy mitigation property to compensate for impacts to 68 acres.
That mitigation land includes more than 200 acres of federally regulated washes, more than 900 acres of riparian buffer lands and about 990 acre-feet of actual annual water supplies.
Overall, nine years of review and analysis of this project has “helped us design a mine that minimizes associated impacts and meets or exceeds the regulatory standards for air, water and biological impacts,” Merrin wrote.