Federal Agencies Approve Arizona’s Rosemont Mine Permits

Published May 6, 2019

Two federal agencies issued permits to allow Hudbay Minerals Inc. to build and operate its proposed Rosemont copper mine in Pima County, Arizona.

On March 4, The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced it had issued a discharge permit, required by the Clean Water Act of 1973, allowing Hudbay to build a water pipeline for the mine. Days later, the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) approved the company’s mine plan of operations (MPO), clearing the last regulatory hurdle for Hudbay to begin construction of the Rosemont mine.

The Section 404 permitting process involved 17 cooperating agencies at various levels of government, 16 hearings, more than a thousand “studies,” and 245 days of public comment spread out over a number of years that yielded more than 43,000 comments. Issuance of the Section 404 permit paved the way for Forest Service approval of the MPO.

Large Money Pledges Required

Hudbay had to agree to numerous environmental and conservation requirements as a condition of its permits.

Under the conditions of the permits, Rosemont’s owners pledged to contribute up to $25 million to an endowment to be used to support a trust dedicated to conservation, recreation, cultural, and environmental conservation projects, education, and other environmental ventures.

The company also committed to providing a $50,000 grant to the University of Arizona for camera studies of large predators such as jaguars and ocelots, and it pledged $1.25 million to the USFS to support habitat enhancement and monitoring of western yellow-billed cuckoos and southwestern willow flycatchers.

Hudbay will also contribute $3 million for Forest Service management, removal of harmful nonnative species, and a fulltime USFS biologist. Additionally, Hudbay agreed to plant 38,000 Palmer’s agave plants onsite during reclamation to enhance the food supply of lesser long-nosed bats.

Building for Others

Rosemont is also undertaking conservation measures on 4,500 acres of private land in Pima County, providing $2 million to the Cienega Watershed Partnership to preserve and enhance aquatic ecosystems, and giving $218,000 to the Fred Lawrence Whipple Observatory (FLWO) to offset startup costs and another $100,000 annually for the FLWO’s Smithsonian Institution sky brightness monitoring system.

The company agreed to pay up to $800,000 to the Coronado National Forest to produce a plan and develop facilities and infrastructure for alternative off-highway vehicle trails, to contribute up to $650,000 for the Arizona Trail Association to build two new trailheads and relocate 10 miles of trail away from the Rosemont site, and build a new connector road to provide access across the ridgeline of the Santa Rita Mountains in order to maintain a working cattle ranch already operating in and around the mine site.

Big Mine, Many Jobs

As planned, the open pit mine will stretch more than a mile in every direction with a depth of up to 2,900 feet, according the final environmental impact statement.

From the 1.96 billion tons of earth Hudbay estimates it will excavate, the company expects to extract about 700 million tons of ore, leaving 1.2 billion tons of waste rock to fill in the mine when Rosemont finishes operations, per the USFS permit’s reclamation requirements.

According to the plan filed with USFS, Hudbay estimates Rosemont will operate between 24 and 30 years. During that time, it is projected to generate approximately $136.7 million in state and local tax revenues and create 434 direct jobs and 1,260 indirect jobs per year in Pima County. Mine construction will require about 2,500 workers, Hudbay’s plan estimates.

‘Major Milestone’

With these permits secured, the Rosemont mine will soon become a huge asset to the economy, says Alan Hair, Hudbay’s president, chief executive officer, and director.

“The receipt of Rosemont’s 404 water permit is a major milestone in our efforts to build a modern mine that will fulfill the requirements of its permits, create jobs, and provide benefits for all of our shareholders,” Hair said. “With the receipt of the Section 404 water permit, and receipt of the approved MPO, Rosemont is now a fully permitted, shovel-ready copper project, and we look forward to developing this world-class asset.”

The Rosemont copper mine in Arizona and the newly permitted PolyMet copper-nickel precious metals mine in Minnesota (see story on page XX) will be good for the economy and for national security, says Ashley Burke, senior vice president of communications for the National Mining Association.

“It is encouraging to see these world-class projects move forward,” Burke said. “Unfortunately, the Unites States’ current, inefficient permitting process delayed for too long the high-wage jobs and other economic benefits these projects will bring to rural Arizona and Minnesota.

“The broken process that currently exists can drag on for a decade or even longer, while major mining countries with similarly stringent environmental regulations, such as Canada and Australia, grant permits within two to three years,” Burke said. “Mining’s contributions to the U.S. economy are significant, providing more than 530,000 direct jobs in the United States and another 1,000,000 indirect jobs.”

‘Key Component’ of Economy

Burke says mining is the foundation of modern technology.

“The minerals and metals supplied through mining are at the tip of the domestic supply chain, key components of consumer and industrial technologies, and play a critical role in our national security through their use in the development and manufacture of military equipment and technologies,” Burke said.

Duggan Flanakin ([email protected]) writes from Austin, Texas.