About a week after providing notice of its intention to begin early work on the Rosemont Copper project in Arizona, opponents of the Hudbay Minerals-owned mine asked a federal judge to to issue an injunction to block the early construction that includes drilling, road-building and laying utility lines.
The groups, which include Save the Scenic Santa Ritas and the Center for Biological Diversity said the early work will cause “irreparable harm” to biologically rich areas and culturally sensitive archaeological sites. The Arizona Daily Star reported that the groups have already filed five lawsuits against three federal agencies seeking to overturn approvals of the project.
The injunction effort seeks to stop mine construction until the merits of the lawsuits can be decided. The suits target approvals of Rosemont by the U.S. Forest Service, the Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
If the injunction efforts fail, Rosemont will have cleared probably the last of many legal hurdles toward becoming the third-largest copper mine in the U.S.
The mine would be built on private and federal land in the Santa Rita Mountains, 30 miles southeast of Tucson. It would result in the clearing of 5,400 acres for a project that would create 500 high-paying jobs.
In an investor presentation this month, Hudbay said it plans to spend $144 million in the first year of a three-year construction period.
At a federal court hearing last month, mining company attorney Norm James said the company has already invested more than $850 million at Rosemont. The company plans to start mining in 2022.
In a statement this week, Hudbay said, “We will continue to work with the judge, agencies, and plaintiffs in the development of this state-of-the-art modern mine.”
Later, in the fall, Hudbay plans to start significant clearing and grubbing — removal of stumps and roots — of vegetation at the mine site, the injunction motion said.
Proving irreparable harm is one of several legal standards that opponents must meet to obtain an injunction. They must also show that they’re likely to prevail on the merits of the case and that an injunction is in the public interest.
In the past, the agencies and Hudbay have promised and approved numerous mitigation measures aimed at compensating for the project’s damages.
The mining company and the agencies must give the judge their first responses to the opponents’ allegations by June 5. After the parties exchange several more legal briefs, Hudbay and the agencies must make their final responses by July 15.
U.S. District Judge James Soto has tentatively scheduled a hearing on the injunction request on July 10.
As for the lawsuits themselves, Soto said at an April 18 court hearing that he’s in no position to rule at “any time in the very near future” on their merits. He cited the complexity of the issues and the large volume of documents involved.
He said there are about 50,000 documents available regarding the lawsuits against the Forest Service, including a 2,400-page final Rosemont environmental impact statement and 4,000 pages of public comments on the draft statement.