An official of the proposed Rosemont Copper mine brushed aside objections that the Forest Service improperly allowed the mine to participate in a dozen meetings among government agencies that were not open to the public.
Farmers Investment Co. and two other not-for-profit agencies on Monday sent a letter to Coronado National Forest Supervisor James Upchurch saying “the inclusion of Rosemont representatives on a regular and systematic basis in cooperating agency meetings is a violation of the Federal Advisory Committee Act.”
Cooperating agencies are federal, state, tribal and local agencies that are advising the Forest Service on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement that the agency is expected to issue in 2011. It’s the next step toward opening the mine.
FACA is a law Congress passed in 1972 that, among other things, says “Interested persons shall be permitted to attend, appear before, or file statements with any advisory committee, subject to such reasonable rules or regulations as the Administrator may prescribe” and says records, reports, transcripts, minutes and other documents made available to or prepared for an advisory committee shall be available for public inspection.
A later federal law exempted cooperating agency meetings from FACA provisions. However, the mine critics say that because Rosemont, a non-government entity, went to so many meetings, those were no longer cooperating agency meetings and exempt from FACA, and should be open to the public.
The letter signed by FICO, Save the Scenic Santa Ritas and the Center for Biological Diversity, cites the Coronado National Forest web site in saying that Rosemont participated in 18 of 23 cooperating agency meetings in the past two years. They say that while Rosemont made presentations in five of those 18 meetings at the invitation of government agencies, its participation in the other 13 meetings was improper.
An official of Rosemont Copper ridiculed the objections.
“We go to meetings when we’re invited and we’re required to attend them. The whole thing is crazy. Our Memorandum of Understanding (with the Forest Service) requires us to attend those meetings,” Rosemont Vice President for Sustainable Development Jamie Sturgess said Tuesday.
Rosemont is seeking Forest Service approval to build a mile-wide open-pit copper mine on the eastern slope of the northern Santa Rita Mountains, a proposal that has seen opposition from many local officials concerned with the impact on ground water, local wildlife and tourism.
Forest Service spokeswoman Heidi Schewel said the agency needed to study the five-page letter and would respond when top officials return from vacation.
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