Forest service holds first copper mine public comment meeting

Published: Nov. 13, 2011 at 5:11 AM MST|Updated: Mar. 2, 2018 at 4:20 PM MST
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TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - The U.S. Forest Service hosted it's first public comment meeting about the controversial Rosemont Copper Mine project on Saturday.

Dozens showed up at Palo Verde High School, to voice their support and opposition.

There was a huge show of force by people who were in support of the copper mine.  They came holding green thumbs-up posters stating "yes to jobs" and "yes to copper"

Members of the "Save the Scenic Santa Rita" group also attended the meeting.

It has been a heated debate over the environment versus the economy.

The proposed copper mine, which would be located in the northern part of the Santa Rita mountains promises to bring 406 direct jobs, and 1,700 indirect jobs to the area.

Officials say the average income would be $59,000 and the project would help generate more than $19 Million annually in local tax revenue.

"This community could use the jobs.  We could use the tax dollars.  There are plenty of people who have been unemployed for a long time," said Steve Hildebrand, who was in support of the mining project.

Gayle Hartmann, who belonged to the "Save the Scenic Santa Rita's" environmental group said those who supported the project were missing the big picture.

"This is like a pep rally for jobs that won't be here.  This is such a small number of jobs, but it's a huge environmental impact," said Hartmann.

One supporter said Arizona was known as the copper state, and Tucson was at the center of that production.  A state rich in natural beauty was also rich in minerals, but to get to one you had to destroy the other.

"Yes, you are going to have a big hole in the ground.  Mining is a destructive industry, but you have to do something to get to that ore," said Hildebrand.

Will Vermulen, a Rio Rico resident who also supported the project said if Tucson did not jump on the bandwagon, the company would mine for copper in China.  That would mean hundreds of new jobs in China, not in Tucson.

"You can imagine the thousands of people that will be going back to work here in this area, that will be a great thing," said Vermulen.

Environmentalists argued the cost to the local environment would be long lasting and devastating.

"There are cultural sites that would be destroyed, scenic vistas that would be destroyed, endangered species would be harmed, and our water supply would be compromised," said Morris Farr, who was against the mining proposal.

Morris also worried about the impact it would have on tourism in an area known for its natural, scenic beauty.

He worried about the tons of rubble the mine would generate, and the truck traffic that would be using Highway 83 to transport that rubble.

Officials drew up a big map of the proposed mining project to give perspective on the size of the mine.

If it were located in the city of Tucson, the open pit alone would bury the entire University of Arizona campus, the University of Arizona Medical Center, and most of the industrial warehouses off Aviation Parkway.

The width of the mine would stretch from Interstate 10 to Tucson Boulevard, and Glenn Street on the north to 22nd Street on the south.  That area included the pit, the tailings, and waste area for the proposed mine.

As for its height, the diagram indicated the pit would be more than 2,000 feet high.  To give you an idea of how deep that is, officials said it would completely bury the Unisource tower downtown which was 330 feet high.  It would also bury all of A-Mountain which was 516 feet high.

Supporters of the mine said it would be located in a remote area of the mountain, and would not affect most people's everyday lives.

"To say that it would ruin the Santa Rita Mountains is overly dramatic.  It is taking a small part of the Santa Rita's, and it's certainly not the populated side," said Hildebrand.

Hartmann disagreed.

"If you drive down Highway 83, it will not seem like such a small part, " said Hartmann.

Those who missed today's public comment meeting will have plenty of time to chime in.  The forest service planned to hold several other hearings.

Heidi Schewel, the Public Affairs Officer for the Coronado National Forest said public comments would help them make a decision.  They currently had many different plans in front of them, including a "no mining" plan.

While the number of people for or against the issue did not affect the decision, Schewel said it did help them look at all of the factors involved in making one.

Here is a list of up-coming Forest service public meetings about the proposed Rosemont copper mining project:

November 19th, 1 PM -5 PM, Empire High School, 10701 E. Mary Ann Cleveland Way, Tucson

December 1st 5PM -9PM, Corona Middle School, 16705 S. Houghton Road, Corona, AZ

December 7th 5:30PM - 8PM, Benson High School, 360 S. Patagonia Street, Benson, AZ

December 10th, 1PM - 5PM, Elgin Elementary School, 23 Elgin Road, Elgin, AZ

You can read the entire environmental impact statement of the mining project at www.RosemontEIS.us

You can also submit comments by calling the forest service at (888) 654-6646 or mailing written comments to Rosemont Comments, P.O. Box 4207, Logan, UT 84323.

Copyright 2011 KOLD. All rights reserved.