The comment period for the Draft Environmental Impact statement (DEIS) for the proposed Rosemont mine ended in January of 2012. The Arizona Mining Reform Coalition and its member groups were part of a larger effort that helped generate not only a massive (800 page plus) set of comments opposing the mine, but more than 100,000 comments from the public in opposition (although the Forest Service whittled that number down to 25,000 by discounting most comments that were submitted online). The DEIS was not only panned by the public, but the US EPA weighed in and called the DEIS one of the worse they’d ever seen.
The Forest Service has again delayed the release of the Final Environmental Impact Statement. There is widespread pressure on the Forest Service to prepare a new or supplemental environmental impact statement to address a long list of issues not adequately addressed in the original document. Additionally, Augusta has once again changed their mine plan, which would certainly warrant the issuance of a new or supplemental EIS. As of Dec. 2012, the Forest Service has not made a decision whether to prepare a new or supplemental EIS, and has not given any indication when they plan to make this decision.
In May, the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) issued an Aquifer Protection Permit to Augusta for the proposed Rosemont mine over the objection of thousands of comments from the public. Once again, the Arizona Mining Reform Coalition submitted our own comments and helped prepare a massive set of group comments on the draft. We have appealed the APP decision to the Water Quality Board for many reasons, including the fact that Augusta has long since abandoned the mine plan on which the APP was based. Our appeal hearing lasted 9 days and included a number of expert and fact witnesses including our Director, Roger Featherstone. We have presented an extremely compelling case for overturning the APP. We expect the Water Quality Board to make a decision on the appeal sometime early next year.
Last year Pima County rejected Augusta’s application for an Air Quality permit because Augusta had applied for what they felt was the wrong permit (they applied for a Class II air quality permit instead of the more appropriate Class I permit). In retaliation, Augusta asked the State ADEQ to take over the process and in August ADEQ agreed and released a draft air quality permit. The comment period for this permit ended October 31. We submitted our own comments as well as helped to prepare extensive group comments opposing the granting of the permit for various reasons including the issue of the Class II vs Class I permit, as well as the fact that the permit is based on a mine design that Augusta is no longer considering. If ADEQ grants the permit, it will likely be appealed.
In July, Augusta wrote a letter to the US Forest Service proposing a major change in its Mining Plan of Operations. Although they have not released the new plan, they no longer intend to process the oxide ore and would place this toxic ore on the waste rock piles. Augusta is hoping that the agencies will not review the new plan, but instead grant permits based on the old design. Although the footprint of the new design is supposed to be smaller than the old design, the environmental impacts from the new design would be equally as devastating as the old design.
October marking the one-year anniversary of our Camera Project at Oak Flat. We placed 10 cameras in a 25 square miles area encompassing the greater Oak Flat Watershed and are recording wild mammals as well as recreationists and domestic animals. This project will help establish a base line of use of the Oak Flat watershed by animals and recreationists. Thus far the project has recorded coatimundi, javalina, fox, bobcat, mountain lion, black bear, ring-tailed cat, raccoon, skunk (all four species found in Arizona), deer (both white-tailed and mule), coyote, rabbit, and others. We have also recorded hikers, climbers, 4-wheelers, and hunters (bow and gun). In May, we presented a peer reviewed paper on the initial finding of our camera project. We hope to continue the project another two years or more to develop a comprehensive picture of the various species that use the Oak Flat watershed.
In February, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee held a hearing on the Oak Flat land exchange to compare the old Senate compromise (S 409) and the House version of the exchange (HR 1904). We submitted written testimony and traveled to Washington, DC for the hearing. While in DC, we held a number of meetings with decision-makers both in Congress and with the agencies to explain why both bills are unacceptable. Our Director returned to DC in late May for additional meetings. Through the efforts of an unprecedented coalition including unanimous opposition from Native American Tribes from across the country, our Coalition member groups and our allies in the conservation, historic preservation and the faith community, we have prevented any movement of the land exchange in the US Senate. However, we have implemented a full court press to make sure that Arizona Senators McCain and Kyl are unsuccessful in their threat to move the land exchange yet this year during the lame duck session that has just started.
In March, we learned that Rio Tinto was negotiating with the state land department to purchase 12 square miles of state trust land at Florence Junction to build a 7,000+ acres tailings dump. The site is located on the route of Rio Tinto’s railroad line, and Rio Tinto would slurry tailings to the site in a pipeline along this line. Rio Tinto had been negotiating with the Land Department under the name of the Integrity Land and Cattle Company, and the state of Arizona had no idea for more than a year that they were dealing with Rio Tinto or that the land would be used to dump tailings. We made this news public at a meeting Rio Tinto held with the residents of the town of Queen Valley only 4 miles from the proposed tailings location. Residents of Queen Valley and the nearby towns of Gold Canyon and Apache Junction are not pleased with this development, further fueling the opposition to the Oak Flat land exchange.
In June, a traditional Sunrise Dance was held at Oak Flat Campground to mark the passage into womanhood of a young San Carlos Apache. Although the Oak Flat watershed is sacred and has been used for religious and cultural purposes for centuries, this was the first large public ceremony held at the campground in a hundred years. This highlights the importance of keeping the entire watershed public to accommodate not only large and small public ceremonies, but also many other uses of the watershed. A number of members of the Arizona Mining Reform Coalition attended the ceremony at the invitation of the family.
On November 30th, in a move intended to force a vote on the land exchange at the end of this Congress, Rio Tinto announced that it would lay off most of its workers because the land exchange hasn’t been passed. Although the response from Rio Tinto’s supporters was predictable, we released a statement calling the decision for what it is and pointing out that this boom and bust cycle would be typical behavior if a mine were constructed.
Curis Industry, a Canadian junior mining company that is funded by the much larger Hunter Dickenson group, is attempting to build the first commercial in-situ copper mine on private land within the town of Florence on the banks of the Gila River. In-situ mining is the intentional polluting of groundwater by drilling wells that inject (in this case) sulfuric acid into the ground to dissolve minerals that are then pumped to the surface for processing. Curis bought the land knowing that it was zoned for residential and not commercial use. The town of Florence and several large retirement communities surrounding the proposed mine location are fighting the project because it would pollute the groundwater and harm the town’s economic growth. Curis applied to the town for rezoning, but the application was rejected by the town council in December of 2011. This summer, the town of Florence passed an ordinance banning the use of sulfuric acid within the town limits. Curis has since taken the town to court trying to overturn the ban. Curis has been granted a temporary Aquifer Protection Permit that would allow the company to begin a two year test project on the state trust land. This APP is being fought by the town, and its neighbors including the Arizona Mining Reform Coalition. The comment deadline for this APP is December 23rd and the Coalition is working on its comments.