TUCSON (CN) – Opponents of a proposed open-pit copper mine in the Santa Rita Mountains say the U.S. Forest Service invited mining company officials – but not the public or environmentalists – to closed meetings on the mine’s environmental review. The Santa Ritas are a spectacular range south and east of Tucson.
The Center For Biological Diversity and other groups fighting Rosemont Copper Co.’s plans to open a large mine on public land about 30 miles south of Tucson sued the Forest Service and Coronado National Forest Supervisor James Upchurch in Federal Court.
“The USFS and the CNF have illegally allowed, and, upon information and belief, are continuing to allow, designated and identified Rosemont representatives to attend and participate in critical meetings between the USFS, the CNF, and other federal, state, and local government agencies – without notifying, offering, or allowing the public the same opportunities,” the complaint states.
The plaintiffs, including Save the Scenic Santa Ritas and Farmers Investment Co., a large pecan operation in the shadow of the proposed mine site, say the Forest Service violated federal law when it allowed Rosemont employees to least 18 meetings on the mine’s draft Environmental Impact Statement in 2009 and 2010. The agency has also failed to deliver documents on to the closed-door meetings that the plaintiffs requested in late September under FOIA, according to the complaint.
Rosemont wants to dig about 230 million pounds of copper per year out of the mountain for 19 years, storing waste rock and tailings on National Forest land, according to a Forest Service overview.
“Federal law requires that when projects like the Rosemont mine are under consideration, government agencies have to operate in a fair and objective manner and protect the public interest,” Center for Biological Diversity spokesman Randy Serraglio said in a statement.
“Unfortunately, the Coronado National Forest has failed to do that here and compromised the integrity of the process.”
The environmental review of the proposed mine, in the works for years, has also been compromised, the plaintiffs say.
“The violations … have severely prejudiced review of the proposed Rosemont project by the ‘cooperating agencies’ because Rosemont, the project proponent, alone and without balancing input from other members of the public, has participated in the advice and recommendations regarding impacts, alternatives, and mitigation,” the complaint states. “This has compromised the unbiased evaluation of the proposed Rosemont project leading to preparation of the DEIS, and plaintiffs’ rights to participate fully in that initial evaluation.”
The plaintiffs seek a judgment that the Forest Service violated the Federal Advisory Committee Act and the Freedom of Information Act. They also want the agency ordered to turn over records of the meetings.
They are represented by G. Van Velsor Wolf Jr. with Snell & Wilmer in Phoenix.