Tony Davis Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star | Posted: Thursday, December 23, 2010 12:00 am
The draft environmental impact statement for the proposed Rosemont Mine has been delayed for the fourth time in two years, the U.S. Forest Service announced Wednesday.
This time, formal release of the document is being pushed back into 2011, and Forest Service officials say they don’t know exactly when it will be released.
Rosemont Copper, which would build the mine, hopes to start construction in 2012. But Rosemont officials said they still aren’t concerned that the construction start will be delayed past 2012.
It’s taking longer than expected to produce and review the environmental document than federal officials had expected, said Heidi Schewel, a Forest Service spokeswoman.
Unlike previous delays, which were triggered by new or heightened concerns over matters such as water supplies and a rare orchid, no one issue is causing this delay, Schewel said. A number of issues arose during the review of the document, which required analysis and coordination by the service, working with various specialists and other agencies, Schewel said.
“We’re looking at the big picture. . . . This is a complex process, and as issues arose, we took the time to give them the analysis needed,” Schewel said.
The environmental statement, which will cover 11 detailed issues, is the key document in the service’s long and involved effort to decide on whether the mine should be approved for the Santa Rita Mountains southeast of Tucson.
Construction of the mine can’t start until the service has approved an environmental impact statement and the courts have disposed of any legal challenges to the service’s decision.
The proposed mine would remove 220 million pounds of copper annually over 20 years from private land in the Santa Ritas, then store the waste rock and tailings from the mine on neighboring Forest Service land.
The Forest Service is now reviewing an internal working draft of the environmental statement along with the Bureau of Land Management and the Army Corps of Engineers, the other federal agencies that must make decisions based on what the environmental statement says.
Once those agencies finish, the Forest Service will make the internal draft available to Pima County, the Arizona Game and Fish Department, and other non-federal agencies that are cooperating on the statement’s review.
When they’re done, the document will be publicly released. The public will get 90 days to comment. Six public meetings will be held in Tucson and surrounding areas on the statement.
Originally, the draft statement was to be released in spring 2009.
Roger Featherstone, director of the Arizona Mining Reform Coalition, predicted that Rosemont won’t be able to get on line even in five years, because he thinks it will take one to two years to prepare the final environmental statement, which then will probably be followed by lawsuits.
“Those will take a long time to wind their way through the courts,” Featherstone said.
Rosemont Copper CEO Rod Pace, however, said that while the delay could stretch the project’s construction start until later in 2012 than the company had hoped, time still exists for the service to review both draft and final environmental statements and for construction to start by the end of 2012.
Nevertheless, Pace said company officials are disappointed at the delay and wish the service had announced a firm release date.
Contact reporter Tony Davis at email@example.com or 806-7746.