Time to stop ‘delay as a form of denial’ on Rosemont Copper mine - Inside Tucson Business: Guest Opinion

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ANOTHER POINT OF VIEW Time to stop ‘delay as a form of denial’ on Rosemont Copper mine

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Posted: Friday, April 8, 2011 10:00 am

A common strategy by opponents of anything new - especially in Pima County - is called "delay as a form of denial."

The scheme involves gumming up the decision-making process with demands for additional studies, appeals to governmental entities, lawsuits and whatever other tactic that can put off a final decision.

By stalling long enough, the backers of the project will either go bankrupt from the costs of trying to meet the demands, the market for the project evaporates or the applicant just goes away, tired of putting up a fight.

Meanwhile, the public never gets an opportunity to offer their opinions on a project.

An example of "delay as a form of denial" is the fight over the proposed Rosemont Copper mine in the Santa Rita Mountains.

A consortium of opponents to the mine project, including Pima County government, has tangled up the draft environmental impact statement (DEIS) process at the U.S. Forest Service for years.

The DEIS, which was supposed to be released last year for public comment, is still stalled inside the U.S. Forest Service while the feds respond to more demands for studies.

Pima County government has been especially active in the "delay as a form of denial" process.

Opponents of the mine have attacked the DEIS process in court and have been busy hunting for allegedly endangered plant and animal species they can claim would be impacted if the mine gets a green light from the feds.

Even if the feds were to approve the mine project, more litigation is threatened to impose further delays.

Meanwhile, Pima County has taken the position it won't even start its permit review process until the Forest Service process is completed. This, despite the fact the county has had three years to review the issues contained within its limited authority on the matter.

Guess who is paying for this delay activity? You, federal and county taxpayers.

Let me focus on just one of the environmental impact issues I happen to be familiar with: The claims about the mine's use of groundwater pumped from the Green Valley area. The mine got its state permit years ago to pump groundwater. I, for one, didn't like the fact that state law does not require mitigation for groundwater pumping by mines or farms.

Pecan growers Farmers Investment Company (Fico) pumps nearly 30,000 acre feet of groundwater per year in the Green Valley area, which is five times what the mine would pump.

Representing impacted area well owners, I got Rosemont Coppper to agree to a well protection program that is unprecedented in Arizona.

Rosemont Copper is also trying to get a project going to recharge Central Arizona Project water in the Green Valley and Sahuarita area that would eliminate the impact of the mine's groundwater pumping on adjacent wells including Fico's, which Fico has opposed.

Obviously a federal DEIS is going to have to note the efforts Rosemont Copper has made to mitigate the environmental impacts of the mine's groundwater use. While it is arguable the feds cannot put conditions on their permit for mine activity in excess of state water law, the fact remains Rosemont Copper went beyond state law requirements to be a good neighbor to those in Green Valley.

Many issues get raised in a DEIS. Once the draft is released, the public can speak to the environmental impacts. That's also when the mining company can demonstrate how it will deal with the documented environmental impacts.

Given Rosemont Copper's existing track record in dealing with the Green Valley groundwater issue, there probably isn't going to anything raised in the DEIS the mine can't positively resolve, at least to the satisfaction of the Forest Service to get a permit.

Opponents also realize this. That's the reason for their campaign of "delay as a form of denial." Once the DEIS comes out, it opens the door to a resolution of any potential issues.

It is time for Pima County government and the rest of the gang throwing roadblocks in front of the process for the DEIS to get out of the way.

It is time for the Rosemont Copper mine DEIS to be made public so everyone can voice their opinions.

Contact Hugh Holub, executive director of the Center for Sustainable Development and an attorney who works in real estate development, public utility, water and environmental law, at HughHolub@msn.com.

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