EPA chief contests Army Corps’ permit decision
The EPA’s Region 9 administrator, Jared Blumenfield, expressed his agency’s opposition to pending permit for the Rosemont Mine project. In a letter sent to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, he said, “The EPA is now moving to preserve the option to seek higher level review of your pending permit decision. At this time, we respectfully reaffirm our objections on the basis that permit approval will have substantial and unacceptable impacts to “aquatic resources of national importance” (ARNI), including Cienega Creek and Davidson Canyon.” The EPA submitted a 15-page document that detailed the agency’s objections to the mine.
The report affirms that, “The project will result in the loss or conversion of approximately 7,000 acres,” and that “The proposed permit will authorize the direct fill of at least 38.6 acres of water.” The EPA states that “63 streams are expected to be lost from direct disturbance or lowering of the groundwater table during construction and operation” of the mine, and that “Project groundwater drawdown is also expected to adversely impact 1,364 acres of riparian habitat.” Cienega Creek and Davidson Canyon are cited in the report. “These aquatic resources are extraordinary, rare and intact ecosystems in a desert environment, and their protection is an explicit priority of local, state and federal agencies, environmental organizations, and the public,” it states. “Permitting the proposed project’s reduction in stream flows to Davidson Canyon and Cienega Creek, its alteration of sediment transport, groundwater drawdown, and potential contamination of arsenic and selenium would be inconsistent with applicable anti degradation policy… In addition, such significant degradation of the aquatic ecosystem in Outstanding Natural Resource Waters is prohibited,” the EPA concludes. The EPA report also delineates several areas in which it feels the proposal by the Rosemont mine has provided insufficient information. Alternative sites and alternative practices onsite, as well as a lack of a mitigation proposal are cited in the report. In addition, the report states, “there is insufficient information to assess the effect of the proposed project on ten federally listed species known to occur within or adjacent to the project site, but potentially significant adverse impacts are reasonably foreseeable.” Also, the report refers to the fact that “Wetlands and other waters downstream of the project site have also not been delineated,” calling this “a significant information deficiency.” Further, the report said EPA is “concerned that proposed treatments may never perform at the levels necessary to ensure that heap leach drain down does not exceed Arizona Aquifer Water Quality Standards,” and that “Placing detention/retention basins on top of tailings or waste rock also represents a threat to water quality…Even lined basins would create an unnecessary long-term maintenance issue.” The report asserts that “test results presented in the DEIS [Draft Environmental Impact Study] may significantly understate the potential for seepage waters to exceed Arizona Aquifer Water Quality Standards.” The EPA is working with the Army Corps of Engineers in a review process, as required by the Clean Water Act, in determining the permitting of the Rosemont Mine. If the Corps of Engineers decides to allow the mine to proceed over the objections of the EPA, then the EPA must decide whether or not to seek review of their decision with the Assistant Secretary of the Army (Civil Works). If the Army Secretary were to allow the permit over the EPA’s objections, the EPA can still veto the project, if it chooses. Local mine opponents are pleased with the EPA report. “We were very excited and encouraged by it,” said Wade Bunting, from Sonoita. Jimmy Pepper, from Sonoita, said, “The message the community is getting is that the EPA is taking this seriously, and that is encouraging to us. We didn’t feel that the DEIS was adequate and that it was far too superficial in many areas.” Kathy Arnold, Rosemont Copper Vice President responded to the EPA letter, saying “We strongly disagree that an area over 10 miles away could be affected by a modern facility using the latest technologies.” She said, “the conservation, mitigation, and monitoring plan to address the Corps and EPA concerns is under development.”