Rosemont copper mine clears another hurdle

May 4, 2016

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said the proposed Rosemont Mine will not jeopardize a dozen endangered and threatened species and their habitats in its final biological report about the impacts of the $1.5 billion copper mine south of Tucson.

It is the last major report from the Fish and Wildlife Service before the U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. Army Corp. of Engineers issue a final decision about the mine, reported.

The 434-page report acknowledged that the mine would have adverse impacts on many of the species considered by noted that the negative impacts would be mitigated by a host of measures put in place by the mine and its parent company, Hudbay Minerals. Some of the measures include the hiring of a biologist/project manager for monitoring of impacts on wildlife, a $3 million program to manage and remove invasive species and a $1.25 million program to upgrade habitat for the endangered Southwestern willow flycatcher and the threatened Western yellow-billed cuckoo.

This opinion, a rewrite of a 2013 report, was ordered after authorities discovered an endangered ocelot living near the site and concluded they had to take a second look at impacts on surrounding streams and wetlands.

Mine opponents contend the opinion won’t survive a court challenge. That’s in part due to their view that the service improperly decided the mine won’t jeopardize jaguar existence or illegally destroy jaguar habitat. The only known U.S. wild jaguar has lived near the mine site in recent years.
The new report acknowledges that the mine’s lowering of the water table to create the openpit could or would dry up a stretch of Empire Gulch, a key tributary to Cienega Creek, a nationally recognized stream running east of the mine site.

But the report agrees with the Forest Service’s conclusions that the water-table decline won’t be enough to cause major drying of Cienega, even after 150 years. The creeks and surrounding wetlands are home to many of the endangered fish, frogs and birds that were among the species reviewed.

The opinion says many of the imperiled species have healthy populations elsewhere, including the jaguar, and noted that the mining company will monitor groundwater levels. It also mentioned a long-debated, highly controversial plan by the mining company to buy water rights to Lower Cienega Creek to keep water from being diverted onto a golf course. That water could be used downstream to create more wildlife habitat, the wildlife service says.

Patrick Merrin, Hudbay Minerals’ vice president for its Arizona Business Unit, issued a written response Tuesday, saying the biological opinion “was completed through a 23-month-long science-based evaluation.

The process included the participation of five federal agencies and more than 720 studies and reports. We acknowledge the diligence of the agencies and their staff participating in the Final Biological Opinion’s development and their hard work required to complete the document. Our leadership remains committed to the permitting process.”


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