Hudbay Minerals submitted its fifth plan for the proposed $1.9 billion Rosemont copper mine south of Tucson, AZ which was met with critical comments from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) which has veto power over the federal permit needed to build the mine.
The most recent plan is for land-saving and restoration work to compensate for the planned dredging and filling of washes on the mine site. The new plan is the most detailed yet at 859 pages and comes after earlier plans were rejected by federal agencies.
Hudbay says the plan, centering on a ranch in Santa Cruz County, will not only meet federal requirements for mitigation of environmental impacts, it will showcase how to do restoration work on arid land waterways.
The Arizona Star reported that the EPA has sent highly critical comments on the plan to the Army Corps of Engineers.
Hudbay’s plan, published in September, is being reviewed by the Corps as it considers whether to issue a Clean Water Act permit, known as a 404 permit, that would be the last major approval needed for construction of the open-pit copper mine. The U.S. Forest Service signed off on the mine in June 2017. Under the Clean Water Act, applicants must have an approved mitigation plan to obtain permits.
The EPA blasts the plan as environmentally ineffective and ecologically damaging. The Star obtained the EPA’s November 2017 comments through the federal Freedom of Information Act.
The EPA and its consultants wrote at least five letters and critical comments on Rosemont and its mitigation plans regarding the Corps permit. But the latest comments from the same office sharply contrast with the overall course President Trump’s EPA administrator, Scott Pruitt, has pursued. Pruitt has rolled back, or sought to eliminate, numerous past agency regulations and other actions in moves analysts see as pro-industry and pro-mining.
The new plan would re-establish a natural stretch of Sonoita Creek through the ranch and move the entire channel several hundred feet. Hudbay says this work will reduce erosion and improve adjoining riparian habitat while carrying out goals of the Nature Conservancy. The conservancy runs a preserve along Sonoita Creek downstream of the ranch in Patagonia and favors reducing the creek’s man-made channelization, which dates to the 1940s.
This plan offers a “unique opportunity to return a major Santa Cruz River tributary to its historic floodplain,” Hudbay says.
Hudbay also proposes removing four livestock tanks from its mine site to free up stored water that would flow into neighboring Barrel and McCleary canyons that feed the ecologically valuable Davidson Canyon, and ultimately Cienega Creek.