Posted: Wednesday, February 22, 2012 8:51 am | Updated: 9:56 am, Thu Feb 23, 2012.
Many well owners north of Greaterville Rd in Sonoita recently received a proposal from Rosemont Copper Company for a residential well protection program. In a cover letter, Rosemont president, Rod Pace, wrote “Owners of residential wells within specific ‘well protection areas’ are eligible to participate in a voluntary, transferrable Well Protection Program offered by Rosemont at no cost.” “Participation in the program is voluntary but constitutes a waiver of future claims against Rosemont for well failures.” The contract would be “specifically intended to run with the land and bind the current owners and all successor owners.”
Rosemont included a three page synopsis that describes the “two protection components” of the plan. First, Rosemont would institute a pump warranty program to cover the cost of well equipment damaged by the mining activity, and secondly, there would be a “water well deepening program to deepen a well that has failed.” Rosemont is also offering well owners the “opportunity to accept in-lieu cash payment instead of the benefits of the program.” This means that individual owners could accept a payment of $5,000 instead of the pump warranty program, and that owners could accept a payment of $15,000 instead of accepting the “well deepening component” of the program. If the well owner should opt into the program, he or she is not necessarily assured of ending up with a functioning well, however. “If a well requires deepening to reach a declining water table,’ the proposal states, “the deepening will be limited to the existing well depth plus 50%, or a maximum of 600 feet below land surface, whichever is less.” In the Singing Valley North subdivision, for example, the wells vary in depth from 400 to 700 feet. At the most, the company would only be obligated to drill 200 feet, and in some cases, not be obligated to mitigate the well water loss at all. The proposal also limits Rosemont’s responsibility by stating, “A well deepening will be limited to one attempt to deepen an existing well… If a well is deepened to those depths but still fails to produce water, Rosemont shall have no further obligation.” Further, this proposal only addresses water quantity, and does not address the issue of water quality, which could be affected by the mine’s activities, as well. Sally Reichardt, president of the Singing Valley North Homeowners Association, has several reservations about this program. “We have no intention of signing it,” she said, “and I don’t know anybody who is going to sign it.” She said she has concerns for landowners in her neighborhood who have not yet put wells on their properties, as this program is only being offered to registered well owners. “They haven’t proposed to haul in water if our wells go dry,” Reichardt said, “And what if you can’t dig your well deeper? It doesn’t provide for digging a new well. It really doesn’t offer any protection. I just don’t like it.” The proposal states that Rosemont would be responsible for deepening homeowners’ wells if declining water levels in the area “could be defined as occurring during or following, and as an actual result of, Rosemont water withdrawal activity.” It further states that “Rosemont will design and implement a water level monitoring program.” Wade Bunting, who has been an active opponent of the mine, pointed out that Rosemont would be “the sole arbiter” of whether or not mining activities caused the drawdown of the water table affecting homeowners and their wells. “It will be completely up to them to decide,” he said. “That’s the real problem. There should be a third party monitoring.” By limiting their responsibility to mitigate the effects of a falling water table to drilling a finite distance in existing wells, Bunting said, “It means that Rosemont’s liability is limited.” “It’s a huge boondoggle in my view,” he concluded. Jan Howard, spokesman for the Rosemont Mine Company, said that “These agreements are part of the company’s efforts to minimize any potential impact of the Rosemont Copper project on local residents.” She said that this proposal is based on one developed for homeowners in the Sahuarita area last year, which she described as “the first of its kind in Arizona that protects access to water and well protection for area property owners near a mining site.” Rosemont has scheduled a meeting Wednesday, February 22nd from 4:30 – 7:30pm, specifically for those property owners who received the well protection program proposal, at Corona Foothills Middle School, 16701 S. Houghton Rd in Vail.