Rosemont Copper project dealt another setback

August 30, 2019

Hudbay Minerals was dealt another setback for its proposed Rosemont Copper project near Tucson, AZ when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers suspended the Clean Water Act permit that would have authorized construction of the mine.

In a letter to Hudbay Minerals, the Army Corps of Engineers said it suspended the permit effective immediately due a court order issued on July 31 that overturned the U.S. Forest Services’ approval of the mine plan (ME, Aug. 1).

Tucson.com reported that the Clean Water Act permit gave Toronto-based Hudbay the right to discharge dredged and fill material into about 48 acres of washes for construction of its openpit copper mine in the Santa Rita Mountains southeast of Tucson.

In its letter to Hudbay, the Corps noted that when it granted the permit in March it at the same time also formally adopted the final Rosemont environmental impact statement. The Forest Service had approved the statement in 2013.

But in his July 31 ruling overturning the Forest Service’s decision approving the mine, U.S. District Judge James Soto also vacated that final environmental report, wrote Brigadier Gen. Peter Helmlinger, commander of the Corps’ Northwestern Division.

The mine may now need two rounds of federal approvals before construction can start on the $1.9 billion project. Construction had previously been scheduled to begin on Aug. 1.

If the court ruling holds up on appeal, the Forest Service most likely would have to redo its Rosemont environmental report, and the Corps would have to reinstate the permit.

The mine needs approvals from both the Corps and the Forest Service because the two agencies control different aspects of the project.

The Corps’ authority extends only to Clean Water Act-related matters, while the service’s authority covers most other aspects of the mine.

“Because the Corps relied on the Final EIS in approving the permit, I have determined it is in the public interest to suspend” it, in accord with agency regulations, Helmlinger wrote to Kathy Arnold, environment director for Hudbay’s Arizona Business Unit.

“You are not authorized to discharge dredged or fill materials in waters of the U.S.,” wrote Helmlinger, using the formal term for rivers and washes that fall under federal Clean Water Act regulation.

In a statement, Hudbay said the Corps’ latest decision was “anticipated” due to the earlier federal court ruling.

The mining company continues preparations relating to an appeal of the court ruling, and expects the Clean Water Act permit will be reinstated “upon the successful outcome of the appeal,” Hudbay said.

 Photo: Santa Rita Mountains, Arizona. Shutterstock. 

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