The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is "set to issue" the last permit needed for the proposed Rosemont Mine to start construction, two Tucson Congress members said Thursday.
The Corps' issuance of a federal Clean Water Act permit would cap 12 years of public wrangling and agency reviews of the $2 billion open-pit copper mine that would be built in the Santa Rita Mountains southeast of Tucson.
Reps. Raúl Grijalva and Ann Kirkpatrick said in a news release that they have "serious concerns" the Corps is about to issue the permit. It would allow Hudbay Minerals Inc. of Toronto to dredge and fill a series of washes near the mine site.
The release followed a private briefing of the two Democratic Congress members by Army Corps officials in Washington, D.C., Thursday morning.
“We requested today’s meeting to ask for additional information on why the Corps will issue this permit and assess whether Corps officials have fully considered the environmental damage this project will cause," Grijalva and Kirkpatrick said.
"We both believe critical questions remain unanswered, including whether there has been adequate review under the National Environmental Policy Act," Grijalva and Kirkpatrick's news release said.
"After this morning’s conversation, we are concerned that this permit could be issued imminently without full consideration of the facts. We’re going to pursue every avenue to ensure Rosemont is handled transparently, and we will be conducting additional oversight of this project.”
Officials of the Army Corps didn't immediately respond to requests from the Star to comment on the news release. Hudbay Minerals also hasn't yet responded for a request to comment.
Thursday's meeting came roughly two years and seven months after the Corps' Los Angeles District office recommended that the mine's permit be denied.
Since then, Hudbay has submitted a revised plan — its fifth since 2012 —showing how it would mitigate for the damages that the mine would do to washes and other water courses. The Environmental Protection Agency has also written a highly critical memo — the latest in a long string of such memos and letters — asserting that the mitigation plan is inadequate. Hudbay has responded, defending its plan.
Under the Clean Water Act, permit applicants such as Hudbay must submit a fedeally approved mitigation plan. The Army Corps also must find the project is in the public interest if it issues the permit.
Many business groups in and outside of Tucson have supported the mine based on its stated plan to create more than 400 permanent jobs and its promises of tens of millions of dollars in tax revenues and other economic benefits annually.
The U.S. Forest Service issued its final decision in June 2017 approving the mine operation on Coronado National Forest land in the Santa Ritas. Environmentalists have filed suit to challenge the decision, and are certain to file suit to try to overturn the Corps permit as well.