Opponents cry foul as copper mining company begins work in the Santa Rita Mountains

Once operational, the Rosemont project will be one of the larger copper mines in the U.S.

By Zayna Syed | Arizona Republic

Toronto-based mining company Hudbay Minerals surrendered a key operational permit and started mining operations for its Copper World project on the west slope of the Santa Rita Mountains near Tucson in what opponents say is an unorthodox and illegal move.

Hudbay has fought for years to keep three key federal permits needed to begin mining work in the Santa Ritas. But recent developments seemed to put those permits, for both the Rosemont mine and Copper World project, farther out of reach for the international mining firm. 

Hudbay plans to extract copper ore in both locations. The Copper World project would sit mostly on private land and the Rosemont mine on a mix of private and public lands. Both mines require operational permits from federal agencies.

While it might be more common for a company to receive a permit and then start mining operations before a court rejects the permit, an attorney for some of the mine’s opponents called the surrendering of a permit novel. 

“There is no legal basis. It’s totally manufactured,” said Stu Gillespie, who represents several tribal nations trying to block the projects. “I mean, just imagine if a company could unilaterally surrender a permit, and then say it’s no longer enforceable. That would eviscerate the Clean Water Act …  They know very well that there’s no basis.”

Opponents of the proposed Rosemont Mine say they fear the project would harm Cienega Creek, which nourishes an oasis in the desert near Tucson.

The three key permits consist of a permit to dump tailings, or mine waste, on public lands, granted by the U.S. Forest Service; an Endangered Species Act Section 7 take permit to potentially harm endangered species, authorized by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; and a Clean Water Act Section 404 permit to discharge fill material, or soil, rocks and pollutants, into regulated waterways, issued by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.  

An appeals court upheld a previous decision that one of those permits went beyond what was allowed, while another permit is still being reviewed in court. Hudbay surrendered the Clean Water Act permit earlier this month.

Court ruling raises questions.

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