TUCSON, Arizona — A planned copper mine in the Santa Rita Mountains near Tucson will cause negative impacts, but it's in line with nearly all environmental laws, according to federal forest officials.
The U.S. Forest Service laid much of the groundwork for approval of the Rosemont Mine on Friday by releasing a final environmental impact statement. Still, the report shows that legal uncertainties and significant differences of opinion among agencies remain in the way of the mine's approval.
The report contains 100 pages of mitigation plans aimed at protecting not just water quality, but endangered species, dark skies for astronomy and other things.
The Environmental Protection Agency has denounced some of the plans as inadequate, and the Army Corps of Engineers has raised some concerns.
The Arizona Daily Star reported Saturday (http://bit.ly/1cd8NoO ) that the environmental impact statement — which fills six volumes and totals more than 2,400 pages — is a key step toward a final decision on the project, now in the works for more than seven years. The Forest Service has said it will issue a final decision in about four months.
While the report says the proposed mine will likely not violate federal air quality or endangered species laws, an opinion from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said the mine could cause deaths among two endangered fish species and the endangered lesser long-nosed bat, cause harm to up to 50 threatened Chiricahua leopard frogs and harass the male jaguar.
The mine also has yet to show that it will meet a separate state regulation protecting Davidson Canyon and Cienega Creek, streams that are designated as outstanding waters.
Rosemont Copper has prodded the Forest Service for years to complete the environmental assessment. Due to delays in producing the report, the company has repeatedly pushed back its timetable for building and opening the mine. It hopes to start construction next year and start mining in 2016.
Company officials said this week they were excited to move forward.
Environmentalist Randy Serraglio said despite release of the generally favorable report, criticism from EPA shows the mine doesn't meet all applicable laws. If the Forest Service decides to permit the mine, he said the agency "should expect to be overwhelmed with formal objections."
The Forest Service's review also found that the mine's estimated average of 434 long-term jobs would generate about $85 million in direct and indirect annual income in Pima County, up to $29 million annually in employee spending and $90 million to $158 million annually in purchases from local vendors.
Construction of the mine — pegged at $897 million — would generate $369 million in local construction spending and a broader impact of $585 million across Pima County, according to the report.
Information from: Arizona Daily Star, http://www.azstarnet.com