New Rosemont Mine delay now assured; Fish & Wildlife taking fresh look at impacts on 8 imperiled species

2014-05-23T17:00:00Z 2014-07-13T15:50:14Z New Rosemont Mine delay now assured; Fish & Wildlife taking fresh look at impacts on 8 imperiled speciesBy Tony Davis Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

The federal government formally announced Friday that it will restart reviews of the proposed Rosemont Mine’s impacts on eight endangered species including the ocelot.

The reviews guarantee another delay for the mine after seven years of permitting efforts. The U.S. Forest Service cleared the way for the reviews to occur by agreeing Friday to request them from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. It had previously written the Forest Service that the reviews are legally required.

Rosemont Copper’s parent company, Augusta Resource Corp., had hoped for a final Forest Service decision by June 30. But the wildlife service has said the new reviews are needed in part because of new information about the species’ presence or threats to their habitat.

Species for review: One is the endangered ocelot, recently photographed twice in the vicinity of the mine site. Five imperiled fish, frog, plant and bird species that depend on Cienega Creek and other streams also will be assessed.

Also up for review are the Western yellow-billed cuckoo and the northern Mexican garter snake, which could be listed soon as endangered or threatened.

What happens next: First, the Coronado National Forest prepares a supplemental Rosemont biological assessment. Fish and Wildlife then accepts that assessment and does no more, amends its previous biological opinion on the mine or writes a new opinion.

If the wildlife service finds the mine would jeopardize a species’ existence or illegally damage critical habitat, that could stop the mine. More commonly, the feds require mitigation plans from the company.

Federal officials can’t say how long the additional reviews will take. Under federal law, the Fish and Wildlife Service’s review by itself isn’t supposed to take more than 135 days.

What others say: In a news release, Augusta noted that the wildlife service has already gone through one review and concluded that the mine won’t jeopardize endangered species or critical habitat.

“Although this delay is unfortunate, we recognize the need to have a robust and comprehensive decision document that includes all the required analysis,” said Gil Clausen, Augusta’s president and CEO. “Further, the (Forest Service) has committed to dedicating the appropriate resources to this analysis and to ensure that the work is done expeditiously.”

But the decision to start new reviews proves once again that the mine is a “terrible, ill-conceived idea,” countered Sergio Avila, a biologist for the conservationist Sky Island Alliance. “We already know that this project could impact the surface and subsurface water, protected species and non-protected species. The company must address laws and regulations protecting public lands and habitats.”

Augusta’s pocketbook. Environmentalists have warned that more delays could cripple Augusta financially. It had about $6 million cash left March 31, down from $15.9 million a year earlier, and spends about $2 million a month, its reports show.

But on Thursday, Augusta announced that RK Mine Finance Trust, a British hedge fund, has agreed to release $6 million from an earlier loan that previously wasn’t to be released until the mine got permitted.

Contact reporter Tony Davis at tdavis@azstarnet.com or 806-7746. Follow Davis on Twitter @tonydavis987 or on azstarnet.com/news/blogs/desertblog

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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