The proposed $1.9 billion Rosemont copper mine in Arizona is at the center of yet another legal challenge, this one is directed at the U.S. Forest Service and comes from three Native American tribes that say the project will “irreparably sever” their connection to the Santa Rita Mountains and devastate cultural tradition that dates back to 7500 B.C.
The lawsuit says the mine would deprive tribal members of access to ancestral praying grounds, destroy a critical part of their heritage including burial grounds and stop members from engaging in important cultural practices and religious traditions.
The Tohono O’odham, Pascua Yaqui and Hopi tribes filed the suit in U.S. District Court, about 10 months after the Forest Service approved the $1.9 billion mine project.
It’s the third suit facing the mine. The others were filed by environmental groups and other parties who allege the openpit copper mine will violate environmental laws including the federal Endangered Species Act and Clean Water Act.
The newest lawsuit explains the tribes’ views about their historic, spiritual and cultural connection to this area, and their use of it, in far more detail than the tribes usually provide, a Tohono O’odham spokesman said. Those include religious rituals and the gathering of plants and grasses.
The U.S. Forest Service in June of 2017 issued its final decision of approval for the mine plans that were submitted by HudBay Minerals and has said that it cannot legally block the mine because of several laws, including the 1872 Mining Act.
The Forest Service has said it required extensive mitigation for cultural resources. The agency consulted with 13 tribes and signed an agreement with the Arizona State Historic Preservation Office detailing a mitigation strategy. It prepared treatment plans, laying out how archaeological data will be analyzed, how burial discoveries will be handled and how people involved with construction will monitor archaeological sites.
But the Forest Service has acknowledged major damages to resources will still occur. The Arizona Daily Star reported that all the tribes refused to sign the agreement. However, federal historic preservation law doesn’t protect these resources if the government properly consults with affected tribes and carries out the other steps listed above.
Mine construction, to disturb 5,431 acres total including 1,197 acres of private land and the rest state and federal land, would directly affect 85 historic and prehistoric sites and indirectly affect 15, the Forest Service’s final Rosemont environmental impact statement said. Four directly affected sites are known to contain human remains, and 32 more may have them, the report said.
With about 400 permanent employees and a far larger group of contractors and their employees working on the project, the mine would extract about 224 million pounds of copper annually over 19 years. Its openpit would span 6,000 to 6,500 feet in all directions and drop up to 3,100 feet into the ground.
Economic studies done by an Arizona State University professor at Rosemont’s expense have concluded that the mine will bring in tens of billions of dollars in economic benefits over its life and generate three spinoff jobs for each job created at the mine.
But Manuel said there’s no real trade-off between jobs and the environment at Rosemont.
“In the short term, it’s a benefit. In the long term, it’s destruction,” Manuel said Friday in an interview. “What’s going to happen to Mother Earth once all the resources are depleted? What do we do then? Look for another planet?”