County’s $13,000 mine model
A leading opponent of the proposed Rosemont Mine will soon put on public display a 3D model of the mine site, created at taxpayers’ expense.
The Pima County-commissioned model shows in stark detail the mine’s open pit, which would go more than a half-mile deep, and its tailings and waste rock, covering more than 2,800 acres. They are seen nestled into the rolling hills and oak woodlands of the Santa Rita Mountains, about 30 miles southeast of Tucson.
The County Administrator’s Office, which has helped lead the charge against the mine, will pay a California company up to $13,000 for building the model. It came to the administrator’s office late last week.
Its purpose is to educate the public about what the site will look like, using a computerized model based on Rosemont Copper’s proposed plan of operations, county officials said.
It is not aimed at inciting opposition to the already controversial mine, according to Nicole Fyffe, an aide to County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry.
But by showing the depth of the pit and the volume of waste material, the model backs up the county’s view on the seriousness of the environmental impacts, particularly by showing the number of canyons and streams that will be filled in, said Fyffe, Huckelberry’s executive assistant.
County officials haven’t yet determined how the model will be displayed, although it probably will be on view at a county office, Huckelberry said. The county will make it available to any organization wishing to use it, he said, including the U.S. Forest Service, which would have to approve the mine before construction begins.
“Looking at a one- or two-dimensional, flat map without regard to the surrounding environment does not portray the reality of the environment or the impact of the proposal,” Huckelberry said Friday.
Three county supervisors said they found the model useful, although they would have preferred a cheaper version – which staff said wasn’t feasible. The board never voted on the model because its cost was below the level requiring a vote. Huckelberry informed supervisors of plans for the model last October, on page seven of an eight-page Rosemont memo.
Rosemont Copper, which has proposed the mine, offered little comment except to question why the county only looked at one of many possible alternatives for the mine layout.
County officials responded that’s because it’s the only alternative known now, and that their model can accommodate other alternatives to be discussed in the Forest Service’s upcoming Rosemont Draft Environmental Impact Statement. A service spokeswoman said it may be interesting to compare the county’s model to computer models of the mine when the environmental statement appears.
A Rosemont supporter in the business community, Jack Camper, president of the Tucson Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, said he has no problem with the model if it it reflects Rosemont’s reclamation plans – but he questioned whether it did.
The model, made of polyurethane foam, is about 4 feet long by nearly 3 feet wide. It shows tailing and waste rock areas quite close to Arizona 83, a state-designated scenic highway running from Interstate 10 to Sonoita. The open pit is shown as white; county staffers will paint it to match the pit’s natural dirt color, Fyffe said.
The model consists of two major parts. One slab shows the eastern Santa Ritas, au naturel. You can pull a section out of that slab and replace it with another section, showing the tailings and open pit.
“The goal was to show the before and after of the mine, so engineers and the public and/or planners could walk up to and look at it and make decisions based on it,” said Bruce Fullerton, sales manager for Smart Terrain Modeling, Inc., the Ventura County, Calif., company that built the model.
Buildings are etched onto the model, because actual likenesses would be so small they could break off, county officials said.
While natural areas are dotted with green spots to show trees, the pinkish tailings area is left unadorned, to reflect the fact that Rosemont’s reclamation plan calls for planting a small number of varieties of grasses and smaller shrubs, not trees, said Julia Fonseca, an environmental planning manager for the county. They’re too small to be seen from the air, and this model is designed to have an aerial view, county officials said.
That explanation seemed “a little weak” to Camper, whose Chamber of Commerce group has endorsed the mine. While he doesn’t think it’s bad for the county to show what the area would look like with a mine, to be fair one must look at the reclamation and other mitigation measures Rosemont will take, he said.
“We would be naive to think there is not going to be some change in the landscape, because you are building a mine,” Camper said. “Everybody knows it’s going to be disruptive. But it needs to be fair to all concerned parties. If they are just doing something to inflame the situation, I don’t think that’s right.”
Republican Supervisors Ray Carroll and Ann Day said the model is effective in showing how close the tailings are to the highway. But they questioned the model’s cost, with Carroll saying he thought it could be done less expensively if the county had selected a local vendor, such as Tucson Map and Flag Center.
“I was shocked at the cost, but now that it’s here, I hope people use it,” he said. Carroll -probably the board’s most vocal opponent of the mine – said the model should be used to explain what he claimed are discrepancies between what it shows and what Rosemont officials have said about how visible the mine site would be from the highway.
What Democratic Board Chairman Ramon Valadez found shocking was the model’s view of the tailings and pit.
“I’ve been out there. They (Rosemont Copper) told me the plans and read through some of them. It’s not until you can see and touch the model do you realize the size and scope of what we are talking about,” said Valadez, like all five board members an opponent of the mine.
Huckelberry’s staff said the model’s cost pales with that of Rosemont’s marketing campaign, which has sent out an array of pamphlets, brochures and other promotional material on the mine for the past two years.
As for using a local vendor, the county also talked to the UA School of Architecture, but it could only paint and couldn’t build the model, Fyffe said. Tucson Map and Flag doesn’t build such models, she added. Solid Terrain Modeling stood out because it has built similar models for the National Park Service, National Geographic Magazine, the Smithsonian Institution and the Library of Congress, Fyffe said.
Environmentalists said they’re glad somebody finally built a large-scale Rosemont model, five years into the controversy.
“Anything that helps Pima County residents and other members of the public realize the magnitude of this proposed mine is a good investment,” said Vail-area environmentalist Elizabeth Webb, a mine opponent.
“It’s not until you can see and touch the model do you realize the size and scope of what we are talking about.”
Democratic chairman of the Pima County Board of Supervisors
Contact reporter Tony Davis at email@example.com or 806-7746.
JILL TORRANCE / ARIZONA DAILY STAR
A model of the Rosemont Mine and tailings at County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry’s office. The pit, left, is white because it has not yet been painted natural colors.