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Judge blocks Arizona copper mine project in national forest

Rosemont Copper Mine Site (Facebook Photo)

PHOENIX – A federal judge has overturned the U.S. Forest Service’s approval of a Canadian company’s plans for a new copper mine in southeastern Arizona.

The judge ruled late Wednesday that the agency improperly evaluated and considered water use issues associated with the Rosemont Mine project in the Santa Rita Mountains in the Coronado National Forest.

Conservation groups that had challenged the project praised the ruling, saying it recognized that the Forest Service failed to protect public land and resources in the mountains, home to important flora and fauna.

The $1.9 billion Rosemont Mine, at a half-mile deep and a mile wide, was proposed to sprawl across federal, state and private land, leaving a waste pile the height of skyscraper. It was to be built along a scenic highway stretching south of Interstate 10 to Arizona wine country around the small community of Sonoita.

“The judge’s ruling protects important springs and streams from being destroyed,” said Randy Serraglio, conservation advocate at the Tucson-based Center for Biological Diversity.

“We’ll move forward with everything we’ve got to keep protecting this southern Arizona jewel from this toxic mine.”

Serraglio’s group, along with Save the Scenic Santa Ritas, the Arizona Mining Reform Coalition and the Arizona Grand Canyon Chapter of the Sierra Club this year sued to stop Rosemont, as did the Tohono O’odham Nation, the Pascua Yaqui Tribe and the Hopi Tribe.

Toronto-based Hudbay Minerals Inc. said Thursday it would appeal the ruling that blocks construction of the project southeast of Tucson.

The company said U.S. District Judge James A. Soto misinterpreted federal mining laws and Forest Service regulations and that it will appeal his ruling to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

“We are extremely disappointed with the Court’s decision. We strongly believe that the project conforms to federal laws and regulations that have been in place for decades,” said Peter Kukielski, the company’s interim president and chief executive officer.

The Tucson and state chambers of commerce have supported the project, saying the project would immediately create 500 jobs and pump $16 billion into the local economy over 20 years.

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