Protestors Outside

By Don McGee, Sandy West and Mari Sorri

More than 500 people gathered in front of the Tucson Federal Building on Saturday, April 13th to protest Rosemont Copper, an open pit mine planned for the Santa Rita Mountains, and to support legal actions that are attempting to stop it.

Protestors carrying signs with slogans like “Save Our Water” and “Hudbay Go Away” cheered as government representatives, environmental groups, and Native American leaders spoke in opposition to the project.  Speakers cited independent research, as well as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ past reports, which show that the mine would have a devastating impact on ecological systems, wildlife, air, and water, and would negatively impact the region for years to come.

But for protestors, reasons to oppose the mine are obvious. “We know copper mines,” said Stella MacKenzie of Corona de Tucson. “Go through this state and you will see what these companies have done in Bisbee, Morenci, Globe, Bagdad, Jerome, and Ajo.” John Merritt of Green Valley said he was protesting Rosemont Copper because of what he already observes coming from the open pit copper mine in Sahuarita. “We see the dust and toxic waste.”

The rally was prompted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ recent reversal of its original 2016 decision to deny permission for the mine.  In initially denying the permit, the Army Corps cited many factors, including the violation of state water quality standards and harmful and irreversible effects on the region’s wildlife and ecology. “First, it wasn’t doing it, but now it’s OK?” said Merritt. “What happened?” “The most important thing they said in that decision was that implementation of the mine would be contrary to the public interest,” said Pima County Supervisor Sharon Bronson.  “Now they say that the potential for mining activities to affect water quality is outside the scope of their analysis?  Really?  Isn’t that what they do?  It was in their scope of analysis before and now it’s not?”

U.S. Congresswoman Ann Kirkpatrick, a long-time opponent of the proposed mine, said she is deeply troubled by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ reversal, which effectively cleared the way for the mining project to proceed. “The reversal of the decision is highly suspicious and appears to be one based on politics, not science. I’m not opposed to all mining, but I am opposed to this mine.  It’s being proposed in absolutely the wrong place and the damage it would cause would be with us for generations.”

Plans for the controversial $1.9 billion mine project have been in the works for more than a decade.  The company behind the project, Hudbay Minerals Inc. of Canada, says the project will benefit the region by providing jobs and increasing tax revenue.  Mine opponents, including the Pima County Board of Supervisors, the Tucson City Council, the Sierra Club, grassroots environmental protection group Save the Scenic Santa Ritas, the Center for Biological Diversity, the Tohono O’odham Nation, the Pasqua Yaqui Tribe, and the Hopi Tribe, say it’s not worth it. They have joined forces and filed two lawsuits in an attempt to stop Rosemont Copper.

Kirkpatrick said, “The rationale on which the Forest Service and the Army Corps of Engineers based their approval of the mine is seriously flawed.  The lawsuits that have been filed list those many flaws and are rightfully asking the courts to halt the mine.” In his speech to the crowd, Pima County Board of Supervisors Chairman Richard Elias said the lawsuits are also aimed at getting at the truth. “All the empirical evidence that was collected over ten years got thrown out the window.  We want to know why, we want to know by whom, and I think we are well situated to find out those answers.”

In a written statement read aloud to protesters, U.S. Congressman Raul Grijalva also explained the lawsuits. “We are seeking relief from the courts to overturn the decision and force a thorough public review for this project.  The objective is to bring accountability to this process and demand a decision that reflects the will of the people of Southern Arizona and not the wishes of Hudbay Mining.”

In addition to the negative environmental effects they say an open pit copper mine would bring, speakers and protestors cited the destruction of the Santa Rita Mountains’ natural beauty as another big reason for opposing Rosemont Copper. “We’re distressed that we are sacrificing such beauty for short term economic benefit,” said Jane Leonard, a retired teacher from Oro Valley. “They’ll come down here and tear up these beautiful mountains, poison our water, take the copper, and then leave,” said Mary Ellen Lewis of Vail. “The copper will be in China, the money will be in Canada, and the few jobs they temporarily created will be gone.  The big shots at Hudbay will laugh all the way to the bank, and we’ll be left with a huge mess.”

Austin Nunez, San Xavier District Chairman of the Tohono O’odham Nation, said that all Southern Arizonans have a responsibility to protect the land for future generations.  “What we do to Mother Earth, we do to ourselves. We have a moral obligation to our children, our grandchildren, those yet to come to leave a clean planet, clean water, clean air, clean Earth.”

Even as the two pending lawsuits aimed at stopping Rosemont Copper are being litigated, Hudbay Mining has announced that it is moving forward with preparatory work on the mine site and that it will start digging the mine by the end of the year. Those who oppose Rosemont Copper are determined to fight that plan.  Kirkpatrick said, “This is not over.  And it will not be over until we stop the Rosemont mine from opening.”

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