Not surprisingly, Rosemont Copper and the Tohono O"Odham Tribe hold diametrically opposite views about the latest progress toward approval of the proposed Rosemont Mine.
The mining company sees the new Forest Service draft decision in its favor as a huge step forward. A top tribal official, who opposes the project, hopes for help from a higher power--not spiritual, but secular.
"Rosemont Copper’s leadership, staff and the thousands of supporters in our community have waited a long time to see the final environmental impact statement and the draft record of decision. This is a huge step for us as we reach the end of the permitting process," was Rosemont Copper Community Relations Director Dan Ryan's assessment Monday of the Forest Service's draft approval.
That happened Friday, when Coronado National Forest Supervisor Jim Upchurch tentatively chose the Barrel Alternative as the mine's operating layout. A final decision will come following a 45-day period of objections and up to 75 more days of Forest Service response.
"With these documents released, this allows the Army Corps of Engineers to finalize the 404 permit and the 90-day process for objection and resolution of a Final Record of Decision," Ryan said in a statement. "We appreciate the dedication of the Forest Service and other parties involved in helping Rosemont Copper reach this milestone and their continued work to reach a Final Record of Decision early next year."
But in a letter Friday, Tohono O'Odham Tribal Chairman Ned Norris sought intervention into the seven-year-old mine dispute from the Council on Environmental Quality, a White House reviewing body. The CEQ just Monday confirmed it is informally involved in the mine dispute by facilitating discussions with the Forest Service, the Environmental Protection Agency and other federal agencies.
Norris asked EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy for a more formal intervention. The council could take one of several actions. They range from simply initiating mediation with all affected agencies, to holding public meetings, to deciding this project isn't of enough national importance to merit CEQ intervention. Or, the council could decide that it doesn't agree with the Forest Service's position, and refer the issue to President Obama for action.
In his letter, Norris noted that the Forest Service's final environmental impact statement on the mine found that the project will bury, destroy or damage 85 cultural sites, including 31 known or likely to have human remains.
In addition, the final EIS found that 6,177 acres of tribal resource collection areas will be impacted, Norris wrote. The document said the impact on Native American of desecration of land, springs, sacred sites and burials will be "notable," Norris said.
"Indeed the impact on the Tohono O'Odham Nation and other tribes is beyond notable,' Norris wrote. "The entire cultural landscape of Ce:wi Duag will be irrevocably altered," he wrote, referring to the tribal name for the Santa Rita Mountains.
"Tohono O'Odham have frequented Ce:wi Duag for thousands of years to pray and gather traditional plants and other resources," Norris wrote. "If the proposed action is implemented, that tradition will be destroyed."
Rosemont Copper's Ryan, however, noted Tucson's dubious status as the sixth poorest urban area in the U.S.
"Tucson ranks next to last – only beating out Detroit -- in the United States in creating hi-tech, well-paying jobs. Rosemont Copper addresses these issues of low-paying jobs and high unemployment," Ryan said. "We will offer the combined value of a Super Bowl and Gem & Mineral Show to our region. That’s a $1.1 billion dollar a year economic impact."
Norris, however, said the tribe has exhausted all efforts with the Forest Service and believes this case meets CEQ's legal standards for intervention.
". . . The precedent that a project of the size will set is significant," the chairman wrote. "The scope of cultural resource destruction is incomparable to other recent projects in the area . . .
"Finally, the chairman believes the Nation believes that there are environmentally preferable alternatives available that would minimize the adverse impact on cultural resources and believes that the project may not comply with national standards and policies."