Sometime Friday, the Coronado National Forest will post its long-awaited final environmental impact statement for the Rosemont Mine. This won't be the end of the process but the beginning of what mine supporters fervently hope will be the final approval process.
In a news release today, the Forest Service said it expects that on Dec. 13, a formal notice of availability of the report will be published in the Federal Register, meaning the EIS will be formally released. Two days later, the feds will publish in the Star a legal notice indicating there is an opportunity to object to the proposed mine. At the same time, the Forest Service will publish its proposed decision on the mine. That officially kicks off the 45-day period for people to file objections. After that, the service has 75 days to render and issue its decision.
Many of the cooperating agencies on this project filed critical comments on an earlier draft of this final report back in August--totalling more than 300 pages. In the final version, it will be possible to tell if and how much the Forest Service has responded to those comments when it publishes its conclusions on all the possible environmental impacts.
Here are some issues to look for in reading the final document:
-- AIR QUALITY.The Environmental Protection Agency, the National Park Service and Pima County raised concerns that the mine could damage air quality more than is estimated in the earlier final EIS draft, possibly leading to exceedances or violations of federal air quality standards.
-- TAILINGS. The Arizona Game and Fish Department raised questions and concerns about whether the mine's dry stack tailings could lead to groundwater contamination through seepage of sulfates and dissolved solids through the tailings. Those substances don't have formal, legal drinking water standards that would be violated if the contamination occurred, but these materials do cause taste issues and in the case of sulfates, can cause potential health problems. EPA says sulfates can have a diarrhetic effect.
-- Reclamation. Pima County raised very detailed questions about the adequacy of Rosemont Copper's planned mine reclamation program. That's long been one of the mine's biggest selling points, since Rosemont Copper has said it intends to start reclamation early in the mine's life rather than waiting for it to close in 20 to 25 years before starting.
-- Cienega-Davidson. The Bureau of Land Management and EPA questioned the Forest Service's statements in the earlier draft-final EIS that the mine isn't likely to seriously harm Davidson Canyon and Cienega Creek, lying downstream. EPA criticized the service's use of computer models to make long-term projections, and suggested a formal risk assessment to assess potential future damage.
-- Groundwater impacts. Pima County said that the mine's groundwater pumping could lower groundwater levels as much as 70 feet on the Tohono O'Odham tribe's San Xavier Reservation. Rosemont Copper has said it plans to recharge Central Arizona Project water upstream of its groundwater wells to compensate for the impacts of its pumping.
-- Pit lake. Game and Fish noted that the Forest Service had said that the Rosemont pit lake--left behind after the mine closes and the open pit refills with water--could be contaminated. Arizona Department of Environmental Quality said, however, that for various reasons it doesn't have regulatory authority over the pit lake's water quality.
-- Water quality. ADEQ and ADEQ have raised concerns about whether the mine will damage water quality in Davidson and Cienega. The state state classifies them as Outstanding Waters that aren't supposed to be degraded.
-- Tribal impacts. The Tohono O'Odham tribe says the draft version of the final EIS fails to recognize the "spiritually devastating impact" the mine will have on it and other tribes.
-- More studies. Various agencies have requested more than 50 new studies and other additional research work on the mine, and argued that the Forest Service didn't adequately study a host of issues.
-- Mitigation. Rosemont Copper's mitigation plans have been roundly criticized by numerous agencies. The Forest Service has said it's going to work hard over the next few months to try to resolve the mitigation issues before making a final decision.