It was 2005 when Augusta Resources first started buying properties in Pima County. Sixteen years later, where does the Rosemont Project stand?
The project has been in litigation for the last two years, with sustained public outcry as a steady background, around the major issues of water drawdown, air and water pollution, endangered wildlife, biodiversity, sacred lands, natural beauty, and social-cultural damage.
The Rosemont Mine has been controversial and administratively complex from its start, involving different kinds of jurisdiction from the US Army Corps of Engineers, US Forest Service, and AZ Department of Environmental Quality.
Following the Forest Service’s favorable Record of Decision, and the issuing of a pivotal Clean Water Act 404 permit in early March 2019 by the Army Corps of Engineers, lawsuits were brought by six major conservation groups and three Arizona tribes.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Army Corps of Engineers are currently at odds over the recent decision by the Corps that the mining company was not required to obtain a permit under the Clean Water Act. “The Corps’ March 24 decision to waive its jurisdiction over the mine site will free mining company Hudbay Minerals Inc. from potential future requirements on an extensive and protracted permitting process that had lasted more than a decade,” reported Tony Davis in the AZ Daily Star. “The Corps said new federal rules covering regulation of development along washes no longer require Hudbay to get a Clean Water Act permit. In an April 8 letter to the Corps, a top official in EPA’s regional office, Tomas Torres, contended the Corps violated a federal policy that would have involved much more formal and detailed consultation with EPA before the decision.”
A major setback to the mine project was delivered in February 2020 by Judge Soto, of the US District Court for Arizona, reversing the Forest Service’s ruling, which would have allowed the use of 2500 acres of Forest Service land for about 36 billion cubic feet of dry-stacked tailings, a volume that would average 340 ft deep over 4 square miles. Among many other community responses, the Center for Biological Diversity saw Soto’s ruling as a “partial victory for the jaguar in in Arizona.”
Hudbay immediately appealed the decision and arguments for and against the appeal concluded a year later, in mid-February 2021. The legal discussion is complex, focusing on the validity of Hudbay-owned claims in the Coronado National Forest as a place to dump the massive tailings. A date for the judges’ ruling has not yet been announced.
The company maintains an optimistic outlook on the results of litigation, saying, in October of 2020, “Hudbay is fully committed to building and operating the Rosemont project once the appeal process has been completed.”
One of the plaintiffs in the suit is Save the Scenic Santa Ritas. For that group, VP Greg Shinsky, in a Nov 13, 2020 letter to the Green Valley News, summarized the current phase from a different point of view: “After winning a victory in Federal court in Tucson on July 31, 2019, Hudbay appealed, and we are now in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. We expect a decision in the first half of 2021 and are confident of another win.”
Last year Hudbay began a new phase of mineral exploration on private, patented land they hold, straddling the ridge where Gunsight Pass sits, northwest of the proposed open pit of the original Rosemont Copper proposal, in a zone of about 20 historical mines. The making of roads and drill pads is visible from SR 83, as well as from Green Valley, above the former town of Helvetia. The company claims to have struck good copper deposits at significantly shallower depths than the first Rosemont Mine proposal. They named the explored area “Copper World,” and now present it to investors as a potentially very lucrative second mine on their property.
If Copper World were developed as a mine, it could chop apart the north horizon of the Santa Rita Mountains, create massive tailings visible from both sides of the range, and consume water in aquifers in the Santa Cruz River basin from Green Valley and Sahuarita to Tucson.
The outcome of a second protracted legal effort against Hudbay, that alleges that atrocities were committed by mining company security personnel in indigenous communities around Hudbay’s former Fenix Mine in Guatemala, may affect the corporation’s future as well. In this decade-long case, thirteen members of the indigenous Mayan population from the village of El Estor are pursuing three related precedent-setting lawsuits in Ontario Superior Court against Hudbay. The cases involve murder, rape of individual women, gang rape and the eviction of villagers.
On January 6, 2021, a former chief of security for the Fenix mine pleaded guilty to criminal charges in connection with the assault and homicide events of the Canadian case, as reported in The Financial Post. Gonzalez’ plea was in a Guatemalan court, so this admission is not directly in the Canadian case, but Lawyer Murray Klippenstein summarized the effect of this guilty plea: “This pulls the rug out from Hudbay’s main denial right now.”
This is a precedent-setting case holding a major mine company internationally accountable and is being closely followed by the mining sector and beyond.
So, is the Rosemont Project dead or alive? Depends on who you ask.