Industry groups are rallying to urge support for the proposed Rosemont Copper Mine.
Supporters from mining, construction and other industries met Oct. 14 at the Tucson Metro Chamber saying the proposed mine in the Santa Rita Mountains southeast of Tucson would represent a boon to the region's economy, creating jobs and supporting ancillary businesses.
"We need people working to make Tucson strong," said Wendell Long, CEO of Sol Casinos, president of the Tucson Metro Chamber and a board member of Tucson Regional Economic Opportunities. "The best weapon against poverty is jobs."
The proposed mine, which would sit partially on Coronado National Forest land on the eastern side of the mountains, has been on the table since 2007. It awaits approval from the U.S. Forest Service.
Among those being the most vociferous in support of the mine are the construction trades, which have been especially hard hit by the economic recession.
"A few years ago, we had 7,000 employees (in construction trades), today we have 3,000," said Jim Kuliesch, president of the Alliance of Construction Trades.
He said the unemployment rate for construction workers in Southern Arizona stands at nearly 30 percent.
Estimates put the economic impact of the mine at $9 billion over the expected 21-year lifecycle of the project.
It's estimated the mine would employ nearly 500 full-time workers and indirectly support thousands of additional jobs.
Estimates also show the mine would pay approximately $3.5 million annually in Pima County property taxes and $110 million in one-time construction sales taxes during the building phase.
Bill Assenmacher, president of CAID Industries and board member for the mining industry advocacy organization AMIGOS (Arizona Mining and Industry Get Our Support), said the access to copper would be important to the state if it plans to continue to promote solar and other renewable energy sources.
"If we want to be great in solar, we have to be great in copper," Assenmacher said.
The meeting of industry representatives coincided with the U.S. Forests Service's release of a draft environmental impact statement (DEIS) on the proposed mine.
That report, on which the public has the next 90 days to submit its input to the Forest Service, names a number of issues with the mine proposal, including impacts on water resources, air quality, wildlife, historic sites and recreation.
The Forest Service report does not recommend approval or denial of Rosemont Copper's application for mining permits at this point. It does however, provide a so-called preferred alternative to the mining plan the company submitted.
That alternative was developed in response to concerns about the proposed mine's expected impact on surface water resources, among other concerns.
Under the Forest Service alternative, the footprint of the mine would change slightly, moving tailings and waste rock areas to the south and east.
The changes were made to prevent damage to cultural sites in an area known as McCleary Canyon.
"We can't mitigate putting tons of rock into McCleary Canyon," said Jim Upchurch, supervisor for the U.S. Forest Service in the Coronado National Forest.
Another feature of the Forest Service alternative focuses on air quality.
Its alternative actually would yield worse air-quality results than what is anticipated if Rosemont began mining under its current proposal.
Upchurch said the air quality issue present in the Forest Service alternative was but one aspect of larger plan. He also said the alternative would require Rosemont to enact additional air quality measures.
"With air quality we can mitigate the effects," Upchurch said. "If we can show that they meet the requirements, then we will go forward.
He said the Forest Service would make a final decision on the proposed mine following a review of comments and any changes to Rosemont's application. Upchurch did set a definite date for the decision but said it would occur sometime in 2012.
Contact reporter Patrick McNamara at email@example.com or (520) 295-4259.