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SYS-CON MEDIA Authors: Carmen Gonzalez, Liz McMillan, Pat Romanski, Marty Puranik, Marco Meinardi

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SSSR: Augusta Resource's Rosemont copper mine facing questions and mounting opposition

TUCSON, Ariz., Nov. 15, 2012 /PRNewswire/ -- Two Arizona Congressmen and a southern Arizona county executive have raised serious questions about Rosemont Copper Company and its proposed copper mine near Tucson. They have asked the U.S. Forest Service to prepare a new Draft Environmental Impact Statement before allowing Rosemont and its Canadian parent company, Augusta Resource Corporation, to begin digging the mine.

The questions stem from Augusta's unexpected announcement in July that it was making sweeping changes to the Rosemont mine operating plans on which the original environmental review was based. As a result of these "substantial changes," a new environmental report is required to assess the impacts of the new operating plan.

Augusta and Rosemont are seeking state and federal permits to build the mile-wide, half-mile deep open-pit mine about 30 miles south of Tucson and to dump hundreds of millions of tons of mine waste laced with mercury, lead, arsenic and other toxics on more than 3,000 acres of the adjacent Coronado National Forest.

The Forest Service is expected to make a decision before the end of the year on whether to issue a Final EIS for the Rosemont copper mine or require Augusta to prepare a new environmental analysis that could delay the project.

In its July announcement, Augusta said the changes to its proposed mining plan included piling an additional 70 million tons of oxide ore in nearby National Forest canyons and streams, while processing an additional 121 million tons of sulfide ore - a 22% increase over the original plan. 

Rep. Raul Grijalva (AZ-07), in an August 13 letter to Vilsack, also called for the Forest Service to require Augusta to submit a new DEIS, citing the significant changes to the mining plan.

On Oct. 17, Rep. Ron Barber (AZ-08) wrote a letter to U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, who oversees the Forest Service, making the case that Augusta's changes have "significantly alter(ed) the original mining plan of operation" and that a new DEIS should be prepared.

Recently, Pima County's top administrator also demanded a new DEIS. The proposed mine is located in southern Pima County.  "A new draft DEIS and public comment period are warranted for this project," Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry wrote in an Oct. 25 letter to Coronado National Forest Supervisor Jim Upchurch.

Mounting opposition to the project comes at the same time Augusta has come under fire for a series of false or misleading statements the company is making to regulators, investors and the public about the proposed mine.

The following examples provide evidence that the company may be deceiving investors, regulators and Arizonans who would be affected by the proposed mine.

  • Augusta has repeatedly - and wrongly - told the public and investors that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency only has an "advisory role" in issuing a water pollution permit that is prerequisite to beginning construction of the mine. The fact is that EPA, which opposes the plan submitted in the DEIS, has veto authority over the permit.
  • Augusta officials have made conflicting statements about their plans to expand their mining operations to three additional claims on the western slope and ridgeline of the Santa Rita Mountains. Augusta CEO Gil Clausen told the Arizona Daily Star that "we don't intend to do any mining development there."

But in an August 28, 2012 feasibility study filed with Canadian regulators, Augusta states "mineralization is also known to occur at Broadtop Butte [one of the three claims], which could potentially be added as a satellite development."  The feasibility study also highlights the presence of copper at the other two west side claims, leaving the door open for future mining at those locations.

  • Augusta is making contradictory claims about whether or not it suspended engineering work on the mine in July 2011. Augusta stated in the August feasibility study that it suspended engineering work in July 2011. But the company stated in its 2011 annual report submitted to Canadian regulators that engineering work was ongoing "throughout 2011".

SOURCE Save the Scenic Santa Ritas (SSSR)

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