History of Rosemont Copper Explained


THE REALITY OF SOUTHERN ARIZONA BEING HOME TO A NEW OPEN PIT COPPER MINE IS BECOMING MORE LIKELY. THIS MONTH, HUD BAY MINERALS ANNOUNCED IT’S RECEIVED KEY PERMITS TO BEGIN WORK ON THE MINE SOUTHEAST OF TUCSON. IT’S BEEN A LONG TIME COMING FOR THOSE WHO SUPPORT THE PROJECT AND THOSE WHO DON’T. THE PROPOSED OPEN PIT MINE HAS BEEN AT ISSUE FOR MORE THAN A DECADE. HERE’S A BRIEF LOOK BACK. IN 2005, AUGUSTA RESOURCE CORPORATION, A CANADIAN COMPANY, PURCHASED THE LAND IN THE SANTA RITA MOUNTAIN RANGE. THE COMPANY LATER MERGED WITH HUD BAY MINERALS. IN 2007, THE COMPANY RELEASED THE MINING PLAN OF OPERATION. A YEAR LATER CAME THE ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT STATEMENT. THERE ARE A NUMBER OF STATE AND FEDERAL AGENCIES INVOLVED IN THE PERMITTING PROCESS. THE PRIMARY DECISION MAKERS ARE THE ARMY CORPS OF ENGINEERS, THE U.S. FOREST SERVICE, AND THE ARIZONA DEPARTMENT OF ENVIRONMENTAL QUALITY. THIS MONTH, TWO OF THOSE AGENCIES GRANTED KEY PERMITS ESSENTIALLY GIVING ROSEMONT COPPER THE GREEN LIGHT. HOWEVER, LAWSUITS MAY CAUSE ADDITIONAL DELAYS. HERE IN SOUTHERN ARIZONA, ONE LONGTIME REPORTER HAS COVERED THE MINING PROJECT EXTENSIVELY. OUR CREW RECENTLY VISITED TONY DAVIS IN THE NEWSROOM AT THE “ARIZONA DAILY STAR.” HE BEGAN BY EXPLAINING THAT THE AMERICAN SMELTING AND REFINING COMPANY, BETTER KNOWN AS SARKO, OWNED THE LAND UP UNTIL THE ’90s AND THEN SOLD IT FOR MILLIONS.>>THEY SAID IT WAS PARTLY BECAUSE OF THE ECONOMIC STATE OF THE INDUSTRY, BUT OF COURSE ALL THE ENVIRONMENTALISTS SAID IT WAS BECAUSE WE OPPOSED IT SO MUCH. AND THAT’S REALLY HARD TO SAY BECAUSE THE CURRENT PROPOSAL HAS GOTTEN EVEN MORE OPPOSITION THAN THE LAST ONE AND NOBODY HAS EVER PULLED OUT.>>WHAT’S THERE THAT HUD BAY MINERAL WOULD LIKE?>>WELL, IT’S CALLED A WORLD-CLASS COPPER DEPOSIT, AND A LOT OF PEOPLE HAVE SAID THAT. A LOT OF ANALYSTS IN THE MINING INDUSTRY AND ANALYSTS IN CANADA WHO FOLLOWED BOTH HUD BAY MINERALS, THE CURRENT OWNER, AND AUGUSTA RESOURCE, THE PREVIOUS OWNER. THEY SAID IT WAS A WORLD-CLASS COPPER DEPOSIT.>>THE MILD-WIDE, HALF MILE DEEP OPEN PIT COPPER MINE WOULD OCCUPY ABOUT 4,000 ACRES IN THE SANTA RITA MOUNTAIN RANGE AND FUNCTION FOR AN ESTIMATED 19 YEARS. BENEATH THE SURFACE, THIS SITE IS ESTIMATED TO HOUSE SOME 7 BILLION POUNDS OF COPPER. ITS YEARLY EXTRACTION IS SOUGHT AFTER ON A GLOBAL SCALE.>>112,000 TONS OF COPPER CONCENTRATE. THAT’S WHAT’S DELIVERED TO MARKET. THAT’S WHAT’S SHIPPED TO CHINA, SHIPPED TO INDIAN, SHIPPED TO OTHER PARTS OF THE U.S.>>IT CAN’T BE SMELTED HERE IN THE U.S.?>>WELL, THERE ISN’T ENOUGH SMELTER CAPACITY IN THE U.S. TO HANDLE ANOTHER BIG MINE.>>THERE ARE A NUMBER OF ISSUES CAUSING DELAYS, INCLUDING JAGUAR AND OCELOT SIGHTINGS, TRIBAL LANDS, AND WATER.>>THE BIGGEST CONCERN AND THAT IS STILL BEING DEBATED AND DISCUSSED TO THIS DAY, IS WHETHER TO DIG OUT THE OPEN PIT, THEY’RE GOING TO HAVE TO DEWATER THE AQUIFER DOWN TO 2,900 FEET, I BELIEVE, DEEP. AND THE QUESTION IS WHAT IMPACTS IS THAT GOING TO HAVE ON THE STREAMS DOWNSTREAM. DAVIDSON CANYON AND THE CREEK, WHICH THE EPA CALLS AQUATIC RESOURCES OF NATIONAL IMPORTANCE. YOU KNOW, YOU HAVE ONE SET OF STUDIES AND SCIENTISTS AND COMPUTER MODELS THAT SAYS THE IMPACTS ARE GOING TO BE DELAYED FOR HUNDREDS OF YEARS IF THEY EVER HAPPEN. YOU KNOW, AND THEN THAT’S THE FOREST SERVICE’S POSITION. THE EPA AND THE BLM SCIENTISTS TOOK A MUCH DIFFERENT POSITION THAT WHENEVER THE IMPACTS HAPPEN, THEY COULD BE QUITE SIGNIFICANT. AND THIS CONTROVERSY IS THE NUMBER ONE THING THAT’S GOING TO BE PLAYED OUT IN THE COURTS.>>THIS MINE HAS BEEN IN MOTION FOR A DECADE. AN ESTIMATED $1.9 BILLION PROJECT, HUD BAY MINERALS IS COMMITTED TO THIS SITE.>>THEY HAVE THE RESOURCES. THEY’VE GOT SEVEN MINES IN CANADA. THEY’VE HAD A COUPLE IN LATIN AMERICA, GUATEMALA AND PERU. SO THEY HAVE THE RESOURCES. THEY HAVE THE FINANCIAL STAYING POWER TO GO THROUGH ALL THE INS AND OUTS OF PERMITTING. IN TERMS OF GOVERNMENT BUREAUCRACY, IT HAS BEEN A WAR INSIDE THE BUREAUCRACY. YOU’VE HAD SCIENTISTS WITHIN THE AGENCIES ARGUING. YOU’VE HAD ONE AGENCY ARGUING WITH ANOTHER. YEAH, I’D SAY THE BUREAUCRACY, THE STRUGGLE OVER THIS WITHIN THE BUREAUCRACY IS SOMEWHAT LEGENDARY AT THIS POINT. I’VE NEVER SEEN ANYTHING LIKE THIS, AND I’VE BEEN A REPORTER FOR ALMOST 45 YEARS.>>AND THIS CURRENT CONTROVERSY MAY BE ROOTED IN UNRESOLVED HISTORY.>>THIS PARTICULAR PROJECT WAS NOT INEVITABLE. PIMA COUNTY HAD A CHANCE TO BUY THE PROPERTY IN 2005. THE OWNER AT THE TIME WAS A MAN NAMED LEVY, AND HE WAS OFFERING IT FOR $11 MILLION TO THE COUNTY, AND HE HAD JUST PAID $4 MILLION FOR IT FROM THE SARCO SEVEN MONTHS EARLIER. A FEW MONTHS AFTER THE COUNTY DIDN’T BUY IT, AUGUSTA RESOURCES PUT DOWN $20 MILLION. AND IF THE COUNTY HAD BOUGHT IT, IT WOULD HAVE BEEN PRESERVED AND THERE WOULD HAVE BEEN NO MINE FOR BETTER OR WORSE, YOU KNOW?>>YOU TAKE OPINION AND EMOTION OUT OF THIS CONTROVERSY. BASED ON WHAT YOU’VE REPORTED ON, EVERYTHING HAPPENING AS IT SHOULD?>>YOU KNOW, I HATE TO HAVE TO PUNT ON THIS, BUT THAT’S GOING TO BE DECIDED BY THE JUDGES, OKAY? I MEAN IT DEPENDS ON WHO YOU TALK TO AND WHOSE SIDE YOU’RE ON. IF YOU’RE ON THE SIDE OF THE MINING COMPANY, YOU’RE GOING TO SAY, YES, EVERYTHING IS HAPPENING AS IT SHOULD EXCEPT THAT IT TOOK TOO LONG. YOU KNOW, THIS SHOULD HAVE BEEN SETTLED THREE YEARS AGO OR FIVE YEARS AGO. IF YOU’RE ON THE SIDE OF THE OPPOSITION, YOU’RE GOING TO SAY THAT, YOU KNOW, TRUMP HAS POLITICIZED EVERYTHING AND, YOU KNOW, UNDER OBAMA OR CLINTON, THIS THING COULD HAVE BEEN KILLED BY THE CORPS OF ENGINEERS BECAUSE THE CORPS OF ENGINEERS DISTRICT OFFICE OUT OF LOS ANGELES RECOMMENDED AGAINST IT IN 2016. YOU KNOW, ON THE OTHER HAND, YOU COULD SAY THAT PEOPLE NOW ARE TAKING A MORE CAREFUL LOOK. THEY’VE REVIEWED ALL THE FINDINGS, AND THEY’VE COME UP WITH DIFFERENT CONCLUSIONS, AND THAT DOES HAPPEN IN GOVERNMENT. SO I HATE TO SAY IT BUT IT DEPENDS ON WHO YOU TALK TO.>>YOU’RE THE REPORTER WHO HAS COVERED THIS ISSUE THE MOST. YOU SO TELL ME WHAT YOU THINK IS MOST IMPORTANT FOR THE VIEWERS AND FOR THE READERS TO UNDERSTAND ABOUT THIS PROJECT.>>I GUESS THERE’S TWO THINGS. TUCSON IS A MINING TOWN, OKAY? IT’S BEEN TIED TO COPPER MINING FOR DECADES, IF NOT LONGER. THERE USED TO BE FOUR COPPER MINES IN THE SOUTH OF TUCSON. IT’S NOW DOWN TO TWO. THERE WERE MERGERS, CLOSURES, ET CETERA. BUT WHEN I LIVED HERE IN THE ’80s, THERE WERE FOUR COPPER MINES, YOU KNOW. BUT TUCSON IS ALSO A TOWN THAT LOVES THE OUTDOORS AND VALUES WILDLIFE AND VALUES THE DESERT. SO THE MOST IMPORTANT THING HERE IS WE ARE WATCHING A COLLISION BETWEEN THOSE TWO VALUES THAT ARE INTRINSIC TO OUR VERY BEING.

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