By Associated Press - Monday, February 10, 2020

TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) - A federal judge in Tucson Monday overturned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s approval of plans for a new copper mine in southeastern Arizona.

The $1.9 billion open-pit mine project, in the planning stages since 2005, has been in legal limbo since a federal court ruling halted work July 31 - a day before its scheduled construction start.

U.S. District Judge James A. Soto also denied cross-motions Monday for summary judgement on cross-claims filed by attorneys for Rosemont Mine.

Last December, Soto declined a request from Toronto-based Hudbay Minerals Inc. to change his July ruling overturning approval from the U.S. Forest Service in 2017 to build the project.

Soto found public land could not be used for mining without claims.

The judge also ruled last August that the U.S. Forest Service improperly evaluated and considered water use issues associated with the mining project in the Santa Rita Mountains in the Coronado National Forest.

Lawyers for the Tucson-based Center for Biological Diversity said federal agencies have failed to protect public land and resources in mountains that are home to endangered jaguars and cougars, black bears and deer.

The mountain range is also home to the Madera Canyon, one of the premier U.S. bird-watching spots.

“This is a wonderful win for the Santa Rita’s rare and beautiful animals, including the endangered jaguar,” Marc Fink, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement Monday.

“The judge put the focus right where it belongs, on the protections demanded by the Endangered Species Act, and on sound scientific analysis of what these imperiled species need to survive and recover,” Fink added. “The jaguars and endangered frogs, snakes and birds that call this place home are too important and vulnerable to be sacrificed for mining company profits.”

Hudbay Minerals holds the mining claims and owns the property 36 miles (58 kilometers) southeast of Tucson.

A call Monday afternoon to the company seeking comment on the latest court ruling wasn’t immediately returned.

Hudbay Minerals officials have previously said the mining project conforms to federal laws and regulations that have been in place for decades and said the judge misinterpreted federal mining laws and Forest Service regulations.

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