State Board Sued for Upholding Rosemont Water Permit

This photo of a rendering at the Rosemont copper visitor center, shows what the proposed mine would look like at full production. Photo Credit: Inside Tucson Business

This photo of a rendering at the Rosemont copper visitor center, shows what the proposed mine would look like at full production. Photo Credit: Inside Tucson Business

Original article by Tony Davis, Arizona Daily Star.

Opponents of the proposed Rosemont Mine have filed suit, seeking to overturn a state decision awarding a groundwater protection permit to mine owners Rosemont Copper Co.

The permit allows the company to discharge materials if it can show it’s using the best available technology to keep pollutants from reaching groundwater.

The suit, filed last week by 14 individuals and groups, challenges the July decision by the State Water Quality Appeals Board to uphold issuance of the permit by the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality in April 2012.

Filed in Superior Court in Maricopa County, the suit alleges that the board’s 2-1 vote in favor of the permit was “arbitrary, capricious, contrary to law, an abuse of discretion and not supported by substantial evidence.”

As it stands now, the state permit should be called the “Rosemont aquifer pollution permit,” said Gayle Hartmann, president of the mine opposition group Save the Scenic Santa Ritas, which is one of the plaintiffs.

Other plaintiffs include Richard Walden and Nan Walden, who are executives of the pecan growing Farmers Investment Co.; environmental groups Sky Island Alliance, the Coalition for Sonoran Desert Protection and the Center for Biological Diversity; and eight residents of Tucson, Green Valley and Vail.

Mark Shaffer, an ADEQ spokesman, noted that the department’s decision granting the permit was upheld “independently and unconditionally” by the water appeals board after nine days of testimony before the State Office of Administrative Hearings. ADEQ has said its review evaluated Rosemont’s pollution control technologies in relation to the mine site’s environmental surroundings in the Santa Rita Mountains, 30 miles southeast of Tucson.

“We are confident the permit, as issued, will be protective of the state’s water quality,” Shaffer said Tuesday.

Kathy Arnold, a Rosemont Copper vice president, said the law judge ruled on 500 findings of fact and reached 33 conclusions in support of ADEQ’s work. She said she’s confident the permit will survive and that the suit won’t delay Rosemont’s permitting and construction timelines.

“These last-minute actions have been anticipated as it is a common opposition tactic. They seek delays,” Arnold said, in part.

Among the lawsuit’s allegations:

That the water board and the judge failed to consider the mine’s potential impacts to surface water, as required by state law. Opponents are concerned that if the mine were to contaminate groundwater, its pollutants could rise into surface water because the two are connected.

The mine plan has changed since ADEQ issued the permit. Rosemont has since decided to eliminate heap leaching of copper oxide and increase production of copper sulfide.

The appeals board failed to require ADEQ to consider impacts on plants and animals from groundwater pollution, which the suit says is also required.

Opponents say they’re concerned that Cienega Creek and Davidson Canyon near the mine site could be contaminated by groundwater pollution rising to the surface, impacting a source of Tucson’s groundwater and imperiled wildlife such as the Gila chub and the Chiricahua leopard frog.

“This permit should be sent back to the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality so that it can do what it should have done in the first place — thoroughly analyze the potential harm that the Rosemont copper mine would do to people, plants and wildlife,” said Randy Serraglio, a conservation advocate for the Center for Biological Diversity.

ADEQ’s Shaffer countered, “ADEQ issued the aquifer protection permit to Rosemont Copper Co. after independent and rigorous analysis of the plan for the mine. It also was issued following a public hearing and consideration of nearly 250 comments from the public.”

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