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ANOTHER POINT OF VIEW Pima County spends big, working overtime to kill Rosemont Copper Mine

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Posted: Friday, March 18, 2011 12:00 pm

Here is another example why Pima County has become famous for being anti-economic development: As most everyone knows, county leaders are virulently opposed to the proposed Rosemont Copper Mine on the east side of the Santa Rita Mountains.

On March 9, County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry issued another lengthy screed against the mine project entitled "Proposed Rosemont Mine - Three Dimensional Model for Public Education Unknown Mitigation, Comparatively Low Tex Rates and High Profitability."

Business leaders ought to read this to appreciate just how far Pima County will go to trash a multi-billion dollar investment in the region.

At the conclusion the report states: "Although election results are only one way to measure the values and views of a community, they do provide an indicator as to what a community desires. This community has consistently voted for conservation of our natural and cultural resources for over 30 years. Any mine proposal of this magnitude in this location is inconsistent with this ethic."

However, the report fails to note the privately owned property where the Rosemont copper deposit is located was not included on the list of target properties Pima wanted to acquire with its open space bond issue. And the report fails to note that when offered the property by the former owner, Pima County rejected it.

Ironically, one of the reasons Huckelberry now opposes the mine is because Rosemont Copper will make too much money mining the copper.

The report has an analysis of how much money Rosemont stands to make if copper sells for $1.85 a pound - $2.1 billion - and if copper sells at $4.59 a pound the mine would generate $14.4 billion in profit.

In 2004, the mine site was purchased for $4.8 million by developer Yoram Levy who turned around and offered to sell it to the county for $11.5 million but when the county wouldn't bite, he sold it in June 2005 to Rosemont's parent firm, Augusta Resource Corp., for $20.8 million.

It makes the county look stupid for rejecting the $11.5 million.

The point of Huckelberry's analysis of the profitability is he doesn't think Rosemont Copper is willing to do enough mitigation on the mine's impacts on the environment. For example, he suggests Rosemont spend an extra $90 million to backfill 6 percent of the waste material back into the hole they are going to dig.

Huckelbery also argues the property taxes the mine would pay are too low. He doesn't like the idea that the state last month enacted legislation that will phase down property tax assessment ratios starting in fiscal year 2013-2014.

So not only does Huckelberry discount the $66 million in property taxes the mine, he has a problem with the Legislature and Gov. Jan Brewer.

He then goes on to discount the impact of the high-paying jobs the mine. "The economic benefits to local communities are modest when compared to other job and income-producing activities. By Rosemont's own economic studies, it will create an average of 4,069 direct new jobs paying an average annual wage of $59,000. This compares to a similar economic activity of Roche/Ventana Medical Systems relocating and expanding its operations to Oro Valley where 500 jobs with an average annual wage of $75,000 are being created."

It is a strange world we live in where a $59,000 a year job is not good enough for a region where median household is $36,758.

The main objection the county has to the mine is "The difference in these two economic activities is primarily in their impacts to the natural environment. Rosemont's mining operation will devastate 4,400 acres of natural habitat within the Santa Rita Mountains in an area enjoyed by many who live and visit our region."

Huckelberry's report includes graphic representations of the size of the proposed mine in comparison to the urban area of Tucson, even showing how deep the mine pit would be compared to Tucson's skyline of downtown buildings.

The county's jihad against the mine is based on the allegation there is going to be some kind of massive loss in the tourism economy if the mine is developed. Repeatedly, claims have been made that people won't visit the region if the mine goes forward.

Remember - and Hucklberry's expensive three-dimensional model of the mine proves it - no one will be able to see the mine from Tucson or Green Valley. It is on the east slope of the Santa Ritas, where people who drive on State Route 83 from Interstate 10 to Sonoita will see it.

Did the mine complex west of Green Valley stop people from driving I-19 to Tubac?

While continuing to fire rockets at Rosemont Copper in an effort to try and prevent the U.S. Forest Service from granting a permit for the mine to use federal land, Pima County has steadfastly refused to negotiate any mitigation agreement with the mining company. The demands (listed in the report) exceed any justification or legal authority of the county. They also exceed any legal authority the federal government has to condition a permit on. The words "bad faith" come to mind.

County officials have put all their eggs in the basket that would kill the mine. And they have convinced people they'll be successful in doing that. They are wrong.

Congress would have to do a massive revision to the 1872 mining law for the county to succeed. While one could argue the law needs to be modernized, there is no chance Congress will take it on. Not now and not this Congress.

Further, due to the vehemence of the small group opposed to the Rosemont Copper mine, Pima County has no ability to negotiate mitigation.

That's the way Farmers Investment Company wants it. That's the way the Save the Scenic Santa Ritas wants it. That's the way the Center for Biological Diversity wants it. They all want the mine killed and Pima County has taken up their cause.

It's time taxpayers started asking: How much taxpayer money is Pima County going to spend to try to kill billions of dollars of investment in this region?

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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