South32’s Hermosa project got a major boost on Monday when the Biden Administration announced the project would be added to the new Fast-41 program. This program will accelerate the permitting process by up to 50%.

South32 expects to make a final investment decision on the “Taylor” deposit in the second half of 2023. The inclusion of Hermosa in Fast-41 will likely favorably impact the decision to move forward with a $1.7 billion-dollar investment.

On another front, South32 has filed its long-awaited traffic impact study for the Cross Creek Connector (CCC) access route. The CCC will allow South32 trucks and vehicles to access State Route 82 just north of the town. Construction of the road is already underway and is expected to be completed in November 2024. The study does not examine traffic routes and impacts on SR82 to and through Sonoita, the use of SR82 through Sonoita, Elgin, Rain Valley and Whetstone to SR90, the use of SR90 to Interstate 10, or the use of SR83 to Tucson.

Following are more technical details on these two developments.

FAST-41 PROGRAM

Fast-41 was established in 2015 creating a new governance structure, set of procedures and funding authorities to streamline the Federal environmental review and authorization process for infrastructure projects including mining. The normal permitting process that mines are required to follow takes an average of ten years from proposal to approval, according to the National Mining Association.

Fast-41 established a Permitting Improvement Steering Council consisting of 16 members, from 13 federal agencies, to coordinate federal environmental reviews for qualified projects.  The lead agency for the Hermosa Project is the U.S. Forest Service. In the next few weeks they are required to identify agencies that may be involved in the permitting process and build a timeline for decision making.  

Expediting the Hermosa project stems from the Administration’s focus on accelerating the development of domestic sources of minerals deemed critical for national security and green energy.  

Jenny Fiori-Magana, Communications Director for the Hermosa Project, outlined the next steps for South 32. “With confirmation that Hermosa has obtained Fast-41 coverage, further engineering studies are now being undertaken to help align our project plans to the Fast-41 process while supporting completion of the Taylor feasibility study,” she told the PRT late Wednesday. “The planned final investment decision on Taylor is now expected during the second half of the calendar year.”

PARTIAL TRAFFIC IMPACT STUDY

South32’s report identifies Phase 1 as the exploration-construction period, expected to last about two years. Phase 2, the operational period, is defined as the start of onsite mining. Most Phase 2 traffic will access the mine from the north at the intersection of State Route 82 and the CCC, with buses transporting workers arriving from the south near Patagonia and a portion of passenger vehicles accessing the mine through the town. 

The CCC is a one-mile segment connecting SR82 at the north end to Harshaw Road on the south end. The study summarizes traffic impacts through 2034, as well as the traffic impacts at the CCC/Harshaw Road intersection. A bypass road will connect to Red Cloud Lane at the existing intersection of Harshaw Road and Red Rock Drive. 

Projected Trip Generation for Phase 1 Construction:

Truck Traffic: 31 heavy vehicles to enter and exit the mine daily, 62 trips per day at peak construction operations in March 2026. All traffic is expected to use the CCC and head north to Tucson and return to the mine using the CCC.  

Bus Traffic: All bus traffic is expected to start near or in the Town of Patagonia and access the CCC from the south and return the same way. A total of 13 buses are projected to make 26 trips per day, 13 entering and 13 exiting the mine.

Employee Traffic: 70% of the employee traffic will use the CCC to access the mine, and the other 30% will access the mine via the Town of Patagonia and Harshaw Road. A total of 139 passenger vehicle trips per day. 

Projected Trip Generation – Phase 2 Operations:

Truck Traffic: Peak operations will continue through 2032 with a peak during 2030 when 104 truck trips are expected to enter and exit the mine daily, totaling 208 heavy vehicle trips per day to the mine, 104 entering and 104 exiting. All truck traffic is expected to use the CCC, head north to Tucson and return to the mine.

Bus Traffic: Bus traffic is expected to start near or in the Town of Patagonia and access the CCC during the 8-9a.m. peak hour and return the same way during the 4-5p.m. peak hour. A total of eight buses are anticipated to make 32 bus trips per day to the mine, 16 entering and 16 exiting.

Employee Traffic: 70% of the employee traffic will utilize the CCC to access the mine and the other 30% will access the mine via the Town of Patagonia and Harshaw Road for a total of 90 passenger vehicle trips per day.

A total of 208 heavy vehicle trips per day, 90 passenger vehicle trips per day and 32 bus trips per day will utilize the CCC during Phase 2 Operations for a total of 330 vehicles per day.

The study recommends that a dedicated northbound right-turn lane from the CCC and northbound acceleration lane on SR 82 be constructed. Also proposed is decreasing the speed limit from 55 mph to 40 mph somewhere north of the CCC. A southbound left-turn lane at the intersection of SR 82 and the CCC is also recommended. 

There is no mention of ingress/egress issues on and off the Interstate at either location and no indication where in Tucson the ore trucks will travel. 

To view the entire Traffic Impact Study, click on this link.

Look for the June edition of the Patagonia Regional Times for more in-depth coverage of these and other developments.