- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 7, 2017

TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) - The U.S. Forest Service has approved one of the two federal permits needed for a proposed open-pit copper mine southeast of Tucson, but an opposition group vowed Wednesday to keep fighting the project.

“This mine is far from reality,” Gayle Hartmann, president of Save the Scenic Santa Ritas, said in a statement.

Forest Service officials announced Wednesday that Coronado National Forest Supervisor Kerwin Dewberry signed the final Record of Decision for the Rosemont Copper Project.

The process of approving a Mine Plan of Operations still must be completed before construction could begin on Coronado National Forest lands.

In addition, the Army Corps of Engineers still is assessing the mine’s environmental impact and whether its operation is consistent with the Clean Water Act.

The $1.9 billion project would put a mine in the Santa Rita Mountains and be located on more than 5,400 acres (2185 hectares) of federal, state and private land.

The project was first proposed in 2007, but has been delayed for years over concerns that it could harm air and water quality, dry up wells and streams, and damage habitat for endangered jaguars and other species.

U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., said the Forest Service “pushed out a premature decision that ignores widely understood science on Rosemont’s potential damage to habitats, waterways and land quality.

“This was not necessary, it is not helpful, and it will not be the final word on whether this unpopular mine is built,” Grijalva added in a statement.

“Save the Scenic Santa Ritas will continue to fight it in every relevant arena. The stakes are too high to do otherwise,” Hartmann said.

“Rosemont is proposing to dig an open-pit that is a half-mile deep, and one mile rim-to-rim, piling potentially toxic mine waste 600-800 feet (183-244 meters) high covering more than 3,000 acres (1214 hectares) of the Coronado National Forest, in a vital regional watershed,” she added. “It’s indisputable that this project threatens our drinking water along with critical desert aquatic habitats and must be stopped.”

Dr. Rob Peters, a senior representative for Defenders of Wildlife, said the proposed mine would undermine the recovery program for endangered jaguars.

“It would take a giant bite out of jaguar critical habitat and block one of the most important north-south wildlife corridors in the Southwest,” Peters said.

The mine would be built by Canadian-based Hudbay Minerals Inc. and produce copper, molybdenum and silver concentrates.

“Conducting a mining operation of this type and size will undoubtedly impact the natural, cultural and social resource values found on the Coronado National Forest as well as adjacent lands outside the forest,” Dewberry wrote in his decision. “There will also be associated economic and job creation effects, as well as contributing to the worldwide supply of copper.”

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