If the Canadian company Augusta Resource Corporation has its way, the Santa Rita Mountains south of Tucson, Arizona will not be pristine any longer. The company wants to mine copper on approximately 995 acres of private land owned by Rosemont Copper, 3,670 acres of National Forest System land, 15 acres of Bureau of Land Management administered land and 75 acres of Arizona State Land Department land administered as a State Trust.
The proposed mining project would impact air, water and soil quality, according to the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the Rosemont Copper Project. The project would make the air quality in the area worse. Particulate matter 10 (PM10) would increase by over three times, which would cause the area to come close to exceeding the National Ambient Air Quality Standards.
Nitrogen oxide emissions would increase by four percent in Pima County. “This would increase the risk of an exceedance of the ozone air quality in the Tucson area,” the Draft EIS states.
The mining project would result in the direct loss or conversion of 6,380 to 6,461 acres of habitat, and may directly impact up to 145,190 acres, “which may have the potential to impact animal behavior.” It would also impact 96 National Register of Historic places, including 62 prehistoric sites (28 of which are known to have human remains).
There could be a risk from an accidental release of sulfuric acid or petroleum products which would impact plants, wildlife and soil in the immediate vicinity of the spill, and could end up contaminating surface waters.
A total of 5,400 acre-feet a year of groundwater would be pumped from the Upper Santa Cruz Subbasin of the Tucson Active Management Area and piped to the mine site. That represents a 6-7 percent increase in groundwater pumping from the Upper Santa Cruz Subbasin, and a two percent increase in groundwater pumping from the entire Tucson Active Management Area. The groundwater levels would decrease up to 3.5 feet a year.
The Draft EIS does acknowledge that the mining project “would result in a small increase in regional employment, taxes, and revenue.”
A small increase in employment and taxes seems like a big trade-off in lieu of the environmental impact copper mining would have on the Santa Rita Mountains. As Richard Elias, a member of the Pima County Board of Supervisors, said, the area does need more jobs, but “we want good jobs that bring clean, healthy jobs to us all that protect our environment.”
Elias added, “If people who run Augusta Resource Corporation up there in Canada think that the Pima County Board of Supervisors is going to be a rubber stamp for their environmental degradation, I think they are sadly mistaken.”
Photo credits: Flickr user, kretyen