In today's print edition, I have a story on the new, administrative draft of the final Rosemont Mine environmental impact statement -- a statement that raises interesting questions about the mine's potential impacts on 10 endangered species living in and around the site. Not the least of those is the jaguar, of course, along with the Chiricahua leopard frog and the lesser long-nosed bat.
The new draft report says that the conclusion is that the mine won't jeopardize endangered species or seriously damage their critical habitat (both are illegal under the Endangered Species Act).
But Jim Upchurch, the Coronado National Forest Supervisor, said in an interview that the last word isn't in on the e-species issue, or on cultural resources or on the mine's ability to meet the federal Clean Water Act. The non-jeopardy language in the report shows where the science is right now, but it's not settled and won't be until a formal biological opinion is released, maybe in a week or two, he said.
Here's how both sides played the report and its conclusions in their respective press releases and statements:
Augusta Resource Corp. press release: The PA (preliminary administrative) FEIS concludes, supported by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, that the project would not jeopardize the continued existence of any of the ten federally listed species that may occur in the project area. The PA FEIS also concludes that the project will not result in adverse modification of any designated critical habitat.
"The Rosemont Mine plan of operations and associated mitigation programs are comprehensive, progressive and thorough," said Jamie Sturgess, Augusta's senior vice president for corporate development and government affairs. "The issues and concerns of many parties have been addressed, through careful project facility siting, technology selection, pollution prevention, land and water set-asides, compensatory mitigation funding, community endowment efforts and voluntary acquisition of ranches and rare surface water rights for preservation of habitat values."
Firing back in a press release was Tom Purdon, a board member of Rosemont opposition group Save the Scenic Santa Ritas.
"Augusta Resource has a long history of issuing misleading information, and we caution the public to not draw any conclusions solely from the company's press release about this lengthy and complex document," Purdon wrote.
"The Forest Service makes it clear that the processes under the Endangered Species Act, Clean Water Act and the National Historic Preservation Act have not been concluded and the relevant sections of the draft document released today are blank," said Purdon.
In response, not so much to Purdon but to Upchurch, Rosemont Copper vice president Kathy Arnold said that while the company doesn't know the outcome of the federal species consultation on the mine, or the final contents of the FWS' biological opinion on the mine, "based on our participation in the consultation, it certainly appears that FWS will conclude that the project will not jeopardize the continued existence of any species or adversely modify any critical habitat designated for such species.
"Roosevelt has been participating in the Section 7 consultation with the Forest Service and the Forest Service (as permit applicant, Rosemont has right right to participate)," Arnold said. "Formal consultation was initiated in June 2012, and has been ongoing for over one year. The internal administrative review draft of the FEIS makes pretty strong statements about the species of concern."
Purdon, however, said, "No matter what Augusta says in its press releases, one thing is clear: blasting a massive hole in the Santa Rita Mountains, sucking billions of gallons of water out of the ground and burying 4,000 acres of national forest land under a mountain of toxic mine waste laced with mercury, lead, arsenic and other poisons will be devastating for southern Arizona residents and businesses. . .
"We believe that after this review is complete, the Forest Service will do the right thing and issue a revised or supplemental draft Environmental Impact Statement, subject to public comment," Purdon said.
Augusta, however, predicted that the Forest Service will issue a final EIS and make its decision on the project during the third quarter of this year.
"This year will be a transformative year for Augusta and our project partners as we move from permitting into construction," said Gil Clausen, Augusta's president and CEO. "Our team is fully prepared and ready to execute on its development. Project financing is moving rapidly to conclusion and detailed construction engineering and procurement is well advanced."