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Down on copper mine

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arib | Nov 23, 2009 04:50 PM

Plans to move forward with what would be the third- or fourth-largest copper mine in the country have been shelved for another year. The U.S. Forest Service has postponed an environmental impact study for a proposed copper mine in the Santa Rita Mountains, 30 miles southeast of Tucson, Ariz., until April 2010 (see our 1997 story). This will push the final decision on the Rosemont mine back to late 2010, six months later than originally planned, according to the Arizona Daily Star:

Last month the Forest Service announced it would have to delay release of the environmental analysis because of complex, controversial issues surrounding the project, including water supplies, water pollution, air quality, traffic, effects on Indian ruins and other cultural resources, and effects on wildlife habitat.

Indeed, the project has caused quite a stir in nearby communities, including Sonoita, Elgin and Green Valley, where residents came out in droves to protest the mine proposal at two public meetings in late October with Jay Jensen, a top USDA official. Concerns ranged from the economic impact on tourist destinations to the destruction of scenic views and local communities, as well as negative environmental effects. Wade Bunting of the Sonoita Community Action Alliance voiced his worries in the Arizona Daily Star:

“It’s a massive industrial project. The mine will be the death blow to our unspoiled natural environment.”

The Tohono O’odham Tribal Council opposes the mine because the area contains close to 100 recorded cultural sites eligible to be listed on the National Registry of Historic Places.

Rosemont Mine officials promise sustainable practices while tapping their estimated 8.4 billion-pound copper mother lode, including dropping $15 million on a pipeline to bring water from the Central Arizona Project to replace area groundwater pumped for mining.

Copper is a major industry in Arizona--the state produces two-thirds of the nation's supply. Eben Robinson, chair of the Tucson Society of Mining Engineers, told the Star: "The negative environmental impacts of the mine can't be ignored, but it's a trade-off -- the lifestyle we have would not be possible without copper."

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