VANCOUVER (miningweekly.com) – Four nongovernmental organisations (NGOs) have filed a federal lawsuit in the US District Court seeking declaratory and injunctive relief against the US Forest Service for issuing Canadian miner Hudbay Minerals’ Rosemont copper project, in Arizona, a positive ‘record of decision’ (RoD) in June.
The environmentalist groups allege that the proposed large Rosemont mine would violate nearly a dozen state and federal laws, threaten critical water resources and destroy Coronado National Forest land. The lawsuit was filed by Save the Scenic Santa Ritas, the Center for Biological Diversity, the Arizona Mining Reform Coalition and the Sierra Club’s Grand Canyon Chapter.
“We finally have our day in court before an impartial judge who will consider all the facts and render justice. We are confident that once all of the facts are presented in court, the Rosemont mine will be found to be illegal and not allowed to proceed,” affirmed Save the Scenic Santa Ritas president Gayle Hartmann in a press release.
Hudbay controls an 80% stake in the Rosemont project, which is located about 50 km south-east of Tucson, with Copper & Moly holding a right to earn up to a 20% interest. Hudbay acquired Rosemont in July 2014 through its takeover of Augusta Resource Corp.
“We have full confidence in the rigorous diligence shown by the Forest Service in fulfilling its responsibilities during the permitting process. Rosemont has been under review for nearly a decade and [was] considered in that time by seventeen cooperating agencies, mostly at the federal and state levels,” Hudbay spokesperson Scott Brubacher told Mining Weekly Online in a statement.
The proposed mine will be an openpit copper/molybdenum/silver porphyry/skarn deposit, located close to several large porphyry-type producing copper mines. It is expected to be one of the largest copper mines in the US, accounting for about 10% of total US copper output.
A March feasibility study for Rosemont estimated the project to have a 19-year mine life and to demonstrate robust economics with a projected 15.5% after-tax project internal rate of return on the estimated $1.9-billion project capital cost, based on a copper price of $3/lb.
Rosemont is expected to have an average output over the first ten years of 127 000 t of copper at an average cash cost of $1.14/lb of copper and a sustaining cash cost of $1.59/lb of copper.
“This mine proposal is the wrong mine, in the wrong place, at the wrong time. Since the Forest Service chooses to protect the mining company’s interests instead of our communities and the environment, we have no choice but to go to court,” stated Arizona Mining Reform Coalition director Roger Featherstone.
The NGO lawsuit urges the court to overturn the Forest Service’s approval of the Rosemont mine and to prevent the project from proceeding. Earlier this year the Forest Service approved the RoD for the Rosemont mine, declaring that the project complies with environmental laws and regulations and should proceed. The decision authorises Rosemont to build and operate the mine for its projected life of 30 years.
The NGOs argue that more than 2 023 ha of pristine land would be harmed by the mine, including nearly 1 600 ha of public land that would be covered by the mine’s waste dumps, openpit, processing plant and infrastructure.
The groups believe that the pit and waste dumps will remain a “permanent scar” and environmental hazard on public land. They also allege that the mine will destroy prime jaguar habitat, land that’s critical to the survival and recovery of jaguars in the US.
The suit alleges that the mine pit would be pumped or dewatered during the active mining phase and then would act as a hydraulic sink to the regional aquifer in perpetuity. According to the environmentalists, the mine would reverse the natural direction of groundwater flow toward and into the mine pit, forming a lake in the pit more than 365 m deep, permanently altering the hydrology of the Santa Rita Mountains.
They also argue that the mine would use more than 113.6-billion litres of water, with significant evaporation expected from the resultant pit lake following closing.
Further, the groups challenge the Forest Service’s approval of the Rosemont mine, saying the pit lake is predicted to be extremely hazardous to wildlife owing to the toxicity of the water resulting from chemical pollution and the physical disturbance of naturally occurring substances. The Arizona Game and Fish Department formally objected to the Forest Service’s approval, stating that the contaminated pit lake would violate federal and state wildlife protection laws. The Forest Service’s RoD does not require any mitigation of harm to wildlife from contact with the toxic pit lake water.
The NGOs also kicked against the Forest Service giving a thumbs-up to the more than 50 truck trips a day that would transfer the concentrated ore to a location yet to be determined for processing.
The mine also faces another lawsuit filed in September by the Center for Biological Diversity that challenges the “biological opinion” prepared by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, which led to the approval of the Rosemont mine by the Forest Service in June.
Brubacher pointed out that the project record, which culminated in the RoD, includes nearly 50 000 technical reports and references.
“The filing was expected and is one of many legal challenges against the permitting process. Hudbay is confident the permits will be upheld.”
Rosemont is awaiting a US Army Corps of Engineers’ decision on its Clean Water Act Section 404 permit for the project. The district engineer for the Army Corps of Engineers Los Angeles District recommended late in June denial of the water permit, which is now under consideration by the division commander in San Francisco, where a final decision will be made whether to send the request to Washington.
A March feasibility study for Rosemont estimated the project to have a 19-year mine life and to demonstrate robust economics with a projected 15.5% after-tax project internal rate of return, and an unlevered after-tax net present value, using an 8% discount rate, of $769-million. Preproduction capital expenditure is estimated at $1.9-billion, based on a copper price of $3/lb.
Rosemont is expected to have average output over the first ten years of 127 000 t of copper at an average cash cost of $1.14/lb of copper and a sustaining cash cost of $1.59/lb of copper.