TUCSON, Ariz. (CN) – Three Native American tribes have called for a halt to preliminary work on a planned copper mine in southern Arizona’s Santa Rita Mountains.
The Hopi and Navajo tribes and the Tohono O’Odham Nation requested a preliminary injunction Wednesday to stop Rosemont Copper from moving ahead with planned road construction, ore sample drilling, and work on a utility corridor to take power and water to the mine site.
Last month, Rosemont attorney Norman James pre-emptively urged U.S. District Judge James Soto not to halt the work, in part because no ground-disturbing work is planned until June and anything planned for the summer would be limited to about 2.8 acres.
“We’re talking about a very small area,” James said during an April hearing, noting that Rosemont has already invested $850 million in the project and plans to invest $100 million more this year.
The Arizona Department of Transportation has also approved work at two intersections along State Route 83 near the mine site, James said.
Stuart Gillespie, an attorney for the tribes, argued last month that the work described as minimal by Rosemont could permanently damage up to 39 cultural sites, including potential burial sites, at the mine itself and 10 more sites along the utility corridor. He urged a delay in any work at the site.
“There is no way to undo the damage to a burial site,” Gillespie said.
The utility corridor work will impact archaeological sites beyond the “minimal” impact cited by Rosemont, Gillespie said, and once work at the mine site starts, it will likely happen very quickly.
“Everything would be gone in four months, once they pull the trigger,” he said.
Rosemont began the process of opening the mine more than a decade ago, finally receiving final approval this spring. That final permit for the mine was challenged by the tribes and Save the Scenic Santa Ritas, a nonprofit launched to fight the mine.
The mine site sits at the northern edge of territory of the last known jaguar roaming wild in the United States and it would affect dozens of endangered or threatened species, the Center for Biological Diversity has claimed in a separate challenge to the mine’s approval.
The watershed where the mine would sit feeds into the aquifer running beneath Tucson, a city of almost 1 million people.