As expected, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service today issued a biological opinion that Toronto-based Hudbay Minerals’ proposed massive Rosemont open-pit copper mine “is not likely to jeopardize the continued existence” of a dozen threatened and endangered species including the only known wild jaguar in the U.S. Release of the opinion clears the way for other federal agencies to make crucial regulatory decisions on the ultimate fate of the Rosemont project.
“For years, the Fish and Wildlife Service has issued biological opinions that have been successfully challenged in Federal Court, and we expect that is what will happen here,” said Gayle Hartmann, President of Save the Scenic Santa Ritas. “The Rosemont project will destroy the habitat of endangered species with its half-mile deep open pit and mine waste piles stacked 600-800 feet high spread over five square miles of the Coronado National Forest.”
Rather than stopping the mine, the biological opinion calls for “reasonable and prudent measures” to minimize mine impacts including some that are left to the discretion of relevant agencies.
The FWS biological opinion is in stark contrast to the views of the other wildlife managers. The Arizona Game and Fish Department concluded: “the [Rosemont Copper] project will render the northern portion of the Santa Rita Mountains virtually worthless as wildlife habitat and as a functioning ecosystem, and thus also worthless for wildlife recreation.”
The opinion comes after FWS reinitiated consultation with the U.S. Forest Service on the Rosemont project in 2014 after new sightings of ocelots in the vicinity of the mine plus the availability of new hydrological information.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is expected to issue its long-awaited decision on Hudbay’s request for a Clean Water Act permit to allow the mine to dump waste rock, tailings and other fill material into washes, streams, seeps and other waterways of the United States.
Both the Corps and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency repeatedly have criticized the Rosemont project for its failure to provide adequate mitigation for the irreversible damage it would cause to Southern Arizona’s water resources.
The lack of suitable mitigation sets the stage for the denial of the Section 404 Clean Water Act permit. EPA also has veto authority over the Corp’s issuance of 404 permits. Hudbay must also obtain the Forest Service’s approval of Rosemont’s proposed Mine Plan of Operations.
On the state level, Hudbay needs an air quality control permit before the mine can be constructed. A Maricopa County Superior Court in March 2015 overturned the Department of Environmental Quality’s issuance of the air permit. Hudbay appealed the decision. The Arizona Court of Appeals is scheduled to hear oral arguments in May.
Hudbay announced in March an unspecified delay in its plans to build the $1.5 billion mine because of low copper prices. The company, however, is continuing its effort to obtain permits needed to build the mine.