County supervisors took another step in their protracted fight with the proposed Rosemont Mine, voting to formally object to the location.
The Pima County Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 Tuesday to send the Forest Service a formal objection to the agency’s tentative approval of the mine and its final environmental impact statement.
The letter is expected to compel the federal agency to respond to Pima County’s long list of concerns over the planned copper mine in the Santa Rita Mountains.
The county has long been critical of planned copper mine, arguing through the National Environmental Policy Act process that the mine would have long-lasting repercussions to air and water quality as well as pose threats to the safety and welfare of the public.
A memo by County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry outlined a number of concerns the county has with the mine. He specifically faulted the project’s proposed mitigation and monitoring measures, calling them “woefully inadequate” in a Jan. 16 memo to the board.
Rod Pace, president and CEO of Rosemont Copper, said he wasn’t surprised by the supervisors’ vote.
However, Pace said he remains confident the action on Tuesday won’t derail plans for the mine to begin operations later this year.
“Our Rosemont team looks forward to the start of construction in the second quarter of this year,” Pace said in a statement.
Supervisor Richard Elías said it was possible, in his opinion, Rosemont could still face legal challenges even if it gets final approval from the U.S. Forest Service.
“I think there are already numerous legal fights that have already been set up with Rosemont — not just between ourselves and Rosemont but other organizations that object, too,” Elías said.
“(Today’s decision) is a continuation of what Pima County has been doing as part of the NEPA process.”
Supervisor Ray Carroll whose district is home to the proposed mine, isn’t sure the issue will end up in court, saying he isn’t convinced the mine will get necessary regulatory approvals in coming months.
“We’re hoping that there is going to be a veto of the project. We hope that it is certainly justified,” Carroll said.
Sending a formal objection, he said, was the only way to force the Forest Service to respond to the county’s concerns.
“Our objections have been stated and restated, but they never have been addressed,” Carroll said.
The letter also could open the door to face-to-face meetings with Forest Service officials, Huckelberry said.
“Pima County may have an opportunity to meet with the reviewing officer and (Forest Service Supervisor Jim) Upchurch with the objective of having a dialogue about the objection issues and exploring opportunities for resolving the concerns expressed in the objection,” Huckelberry wrote.
Supervisor Ally Miller was the lone member of the board to vote against the plan to send a formal objection but did not explain her vote during Tuesday’s meeting.
Contact reporter Joe Ferguson at email@example.com or 573-4346. Follow him on Twitter @JoeFerguson.