In its second warning letter in three months, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers formally notified Rosemont Copper last week that the company’s plan to mitigate for its mine’s impacts on creeks and washes is inadequate.
The Corps wrote Rosemont Copper President and CEO Rod Pace that it has determined the company’s land-saving and water rights purchase plans won’t fully compensate for “unavoidable adverse impacts” from the mine, after it has carried out all feasible measures to avoid and minimize impacts.
In the letter, Col. Kimberly Colloton of the Corps sent a signal to the company that she’s past the point of reviewing Rosemont mitigation plans after a year of weekly meetings between the two parties on the subject. The Corps’ Clean Water Act permit is necessary for the Rosemont Mine to begin construction because it allows for dredging and filling federally regulated washes and streams for the project.
“I have decided it is time to move forward with decision making,” wrote Colloton, district engineer for the Corps’ Los Angeles regional office.
Colloton made clear that the Corps hasn’t made a decision on the permit application. The letter also didn’t explicitly shut the door on Rosemont submitting an amended plan.
In a statement Friday, Pace said the content of this letter is nothing new. He held out the possibility that the company will propose more mitigation or simply enhance existing proposals. Either way, he wrote, “the concerns get addressed and the issues resolved. Our company’s leadership continues to meet and work with the Corps on a regular basis.”
Opponents painted a much bleaker picture for the mine due to this letter. In a blog post, the environmental group Save the Scenic Santa Ritas said the Corps letter means the mine permit is in jeopardy. Another opponent, the Center for Biological Diversity, said the letter puts the proposed mine in the Santa Rita Mountains “on hospice alert”.
“It’s very difficult to imagine a scenario in which this project could proceed. The grave threat it poses to Southern Arizona’s dwindling water resources is simply too great,” Randy Serraglio, a conservation advocate for the Tucson-based center, said in a news release.
Rosemont’s mitigation plans include the outright purchase of, or purchase of development rights for, 4,500 acres of open space outside the mine site, in Pima and Santa Cruz counties. A centerpiece is for the mining company to buy the 1,200-acre Sonoita Creek Ranch between Sonoita and Patagonia, and restore much of its lush riparian and wetland habitat. Other lands involved include slices of Davidson Canyon and neighboring canyons east of the mine site, and the Helvetia and Fullerton Ranch parcels north and west of the site.
Colloton’s letter said she based her conclusions on risks that the company’s plan won’t work. She also noted that it contains limited plans to restore and enhance land as opposed to simply preserving it.
That concern echoed what the Corps told Rosemont in a Feb. 28 letter, warning that the mitigation plan had problems although not explicitly saying it’s inadequate.
Since then, Rosemont has submitted a more detailed formal plan, and some additional information in response to earlier Corps comments.
Augusta Resource Corp. has said it expects to get both the Corps permit and final approval by the Forest Service by the end of June. The Forest Service has said it doesn’t know when its final decision will be made. The Corps says it won’t issue its decision until the Forest Service does the same.