By Lynn Davison, Ann Gosline, Chuck Klingenstein, Valerie Neale, Ron Pulliam and Linda Shore

On January 17, South32 released a marketing summary of its long-awaited Pre-Feasibility Study (PFS) for the Hermosa Mine. However, it did not release the promised full PFS. South 32 must release the full prefeasibility study now, no matter the length. We urge the general public and all stakeholders to contact Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors, the Pima County Board of Supervisors, key state and federal elected officials, relevant state agencies like ADEQ, and South32 leadership to release the full PFS and assure full public discussion on its findings.

The authors of this column, and many other concerned citizens, have been watching with dismay the disconnect between South32’s professed desire to be transparent in its plans for impacts on the local community and the reality of its actions. The release of its “Hermosa Project Update,” a PowerPoint presentation and 40-page report that “summarizes” the findings of its Pre-Feasibility Study with no detail regarding the multiple impacts of the mine on the land, water, wildlife, people, and the restorative nature-based economies of Santa Cruz and Pima Counties is just the latest example of this disconnect.

The following are just a few of the issues that South 32 must have addressed in their PFS but that they are not sharing publicly: 

Regarding exit routes for mine concentrate, South32 states “the expected trucking route in the PFS includes the construction of a connecting road to a state highway and other upgrades to road infrastructure.” In presentations to community groups in the last half of 2021, South32 has mentioned that their preferred route is through Flux Canyon and then South to Nogales, but that they intend to build a “temporary route” through the Cross Creek Corridor to serve as a construction road and exit route for mine concentrate to head north to Tucson until the permits have been obtained for the Flux Canyon route. The released summary report has no information regarding either transport routes. For example, there is no information on the where the roads will be, how big they are, how they will be surfaced, how many trucks are expected to travel the roads daily, how long they will be in service. There is no discussion of traffic congestion, noise mitigation, dust management, or the potential impacts on property values in nearby neighborhoods along the route(s). 

South32 makes general statements about “initial work programs and studies with respect to our communities, cultural heritage, environment and water” done for the pre-feasibility study. However, there is absolutely no information provided on the scope and results of this work. They tout their investment in the local communities, although frankly that investment is miniscule in comparison to the negative impacts on those same communities and significant profit that will be reaped by people who do not live in this region nor even in this country. Are they concerned about sharing the specific findings with the communities most impacted? With their investors?

Where are the results of the water studies including for the massive dewatering plan that holds huge risks for the Town of Patagonia and its watershed? Or the long-term impacts on water quality and quantity caused by operating a very water intensive mining process in a semi-arid region experiencing over a 20-year drought?

Or impacts on cultural artifacts or sacred sites? 

Or impacts on endangered, threatened and other critical species in the remarkably biodiverse region surrounding the mine (noise and light pollution, loss of habitat, reduction in availability of water)? Or the overall additional impacts on our fragile ecosystems, already burdened by climate change?

Or the impacts on the growing restorative nature-based economy, for example impacts on the wine industry and tourism generally. 

What is clear from the summary report is that South 32 has big plans for expansion within their existing patented lands and beyond to surrounding unpatented public lands. They promote their operations and their mineral products as supporting the green economy and local communities in the region. Maybe so, but they certainly have not yet demonstrated that to the people of Santa Cruz and Pima Counties.