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SSSR sues Arizona State Land Department

SSSR files lawsuit against the Arizona State Land Department 

SSSR made news by filing a lawsuit on January 19 contesting the Arizona State Land Department’s approval of a right of way across the Santa Rita Experimental Range. The right of way would allow Hudbay to pipe liquified mine tailings north for disposal on its private lands.


If you would like to contribute to the legal fund for this lawsuit, please click here.

You can read a story by reporter Tony Davis by clicking this link: 

Arizona Daily Star story  

Below is the text of SSSR’s press release about the lawsuit.

Save the Scenic Santa Ritas and Farmers Investment Company file lawsuit seeking revocation of a mine tailings right of way granted to Hudbay for its Copper World mine


The suit alleges the State Land Department violated the Open Meetings Law when it issued the right of way across the Santa Rita Experimental Range


Tucson, AZ--Opponents of the proposed Copper World Mine Complex have filed a lawsuit against the Arizona State Land Department, alleging the department illegally granted a right of way to construct pipelines containing mining waste, also known as tailings, across a portion of the state-owned Santa Rita Experimental Range (SRER) managed by the University of Arizona.


Save the Scenic Santa Ritas (SSSR), a Tucson-based conservation group, and Farmers Investment Co (FICO), a Sahuarita pecan farm, allege the department violated the state’s Open Meeting Law when it secretly modified the terms of the right of way after it was approved by the department’s Board of Appeals during a Dec. 8, 2022, public meeting. (See Complaint with exhibits and Application for Order to Show Cause.)


The Board of Appeals approved a right of way for two 24-inch water pipelines. However, state records obtained by SSSR reveal that the department knew the true purpose of the right of way was to allow Hudbay to also construct tailings pipelines and increase the number of pipelines from two to six.


Mine tailings typically contain hazardous materials, including arsenic and lead. Mine tailings pipelines have a long, documented history of rupturing, according to Earthworks, a Washington, D.C., environmental group.


“Last year, we asked the land department and Governor Katie Hobbs to revoke the right of way because there was clear evidence showing an Open Meeting Law violation dating back to last Spring,” said Rob Peters, executive director of Save the Scenic Santa Ritas. “Unfortunately, the department and the governor refused to act, forcing us to file this lawsuit.”


The lawsuit was filed on Jan. 19 in Maricopa County Superior Court (CV2024-001259). The suit requests the court to revoke approval of the right of way, a lynchpin in Hudbay’s mining plan to dump millions of tons of tailings on its private property. Hudbay does not have direct access to the tailings dump property and must cross U.S. Bureau of Land Management property or bypass federal land through the SRER.

The Santa Rita Experimental Range (SRER) is blue. The state Land Department's right of way across SRER land that is the subject of this lawsuit is the purple vertical line running north south along the eastern edge of the blue SRER. The green dotted line is the proposed underground tailings pipeline through U.S. Bureau of Land Management property, which is yellow. The brown “F” shaped parcel is Hudbay’s land that is a proposed tailings waste dump.

Hudbay initially planned to construct an underground tailings pipeline through BLM property, according to its mine reclamation plan filed with the state. However, that option posed a considerable risk because it would require federal approval and potential legal challenges. Hudbay turned to the State Land Department in the summer of 2022 to begin the administrative process to obtain a right of way for a mine tailings pipeline across the SRER, which abuts Hudbay and BLM land.


“The 53,000-acre Santa Rita Experimental Range is one of the most important state-owned land conservation research centers in the United States. The range is managed by the University of Arizona and is legally required to conduct ecological and rangeland research,” said Dick Walden, president and CEO of Farmers Investment Co. “The state should be doing everything in its power to protect the environmental integrity of the range rather than secretly working with a foreign mining company to allow mine tailings pipelines to cross the range with absolutely no environmental review.”


SSSR filed public records requests last April and June with the land department seeking the signed right of way and other communications between the department and Hudbay. The department did not respond. SSSR and FICO then retained Phoenix attorney David Bodney, who specializes in government transparency law, in December. Only after Mr. Bodney notified the Arizona Attorney General of possible litigation did the land department comply with SSSR’s request for outstanding records.


“This is a case of deliberately denying the full disclosure of public records in a timely manner,” Mr. Peters said.  “Over eight months later, and after failing to respond to repeated demand letters requesting such documents be made available, did ASLD finally provide the requested records.”


The records released in December reveal that Hudbay and land department bureaucrats executed a plan to bypass Governor Hobbs’ newly appointed Land Commissioner Robyn Sahid and instead have an “acting commissioner” sign the right of way.  Governor Hobbs appointed Sahid in early January 2023.


The recently released records included a copy of the official right of way that was granted on Jan. 30, 2023. Bradley La Vasseur executed the right of way as the “Arizona State Land Commissioner.” Mr. La Vasseur, however, was not the commissioner and, in fact, is a land department Contract Management Specialist III, according to state records.


“SSSR does not know the legal circumstances under which Mr. La Vasseur signed the right of way as commissioner,” said Mr. Peters. “But the evidence is clear that land department managers and Hudbay worked together and bypassed the authority of the newly appointed commissioner.”

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