Hudbay is back and planning to mine the west side of the Santa Ritas. The Canadian mining company has been doing exploratory drilling since last fall since their Rosemont project was tied up in court. According to a Tucson.com article by Tony Davis, the company drilled more than 70 holes, ranging in depth from 10 to 600 feet underground, and covering 40,000 feet total. Of those, 13 holes turned up copper ore grades between 0.5 to 1.38% copper. The average copper grade found at the Rosemont site was 0.45% in Hudbay’s 2017 feasibility study for that mine, done in 2017. Hudbay does not yet have an average copper grade for its latest set of drill holes.
The company and some local politicians emphasize that the mine would likely bring more jobs to the area, on top of 600 high-paying, full-time jobs planned for Rosemont. However, the environmental damage and the disruption near by communities will be significant.
Gayle Hartmann, president of the opposition group Save the Scenic Santa Ritas was quoted in the Davis article as saying, “Hudbay should be concerned about a number of things. They have all along tried to pacify Green Valley and Sahuarita that this would not be a problem for them.” That situation is now going to change as they will be mining the west side of the Santa Ritas.
Mining on the west slope of the Santa Ritas will require additional water, which Hartmann said will put more pressure on the aquifer near Sahuarita, where the mining company already plans to pump for groundwater for Rosemont. “It’s a precarious groundwater situation now. If they proceed on mining on the west side, it is going to deplete that water table even more,” Hartmann said.
At the same time, opponents most likely can’t do much to stop the company from mining its private land if it chooses to operate only there.
The real potential for additional controversy would come if the company also moved to get Forest Service approval to dispose of its waste rock and tailings on federal land. That’s the issue now most at play in the continued Rosemont legal conflict.
Hudbay also gave Pima County’s Department of Environmental Quality advance notice of its drilling plans on Sept. 10. At that time, it applied for and received a routine permit that’s required for any kind of industrial operation that could generate “fugitive” dust. That is dust that isn’t emitted from a stack or pipe and often comes from ground disturbance. The permit covers activities on 40-plus acres near the intersection of Santa Rita Road and National Forest Road 505 (Helvetia Road).
Make no mistake, Hudbay’s mining activity will lower property values and disrupt life in Sahuarita and Green Valley. When it comes time to re-elect local officials who support this project – it will be time to find people to replace them. The number of permanent jobs will be nowhere near the numbers projected by the mining company – modern open pit mines are mostly automated and run by a relatively small crew of people.
Besides the disruption to life (think numerous large trucks on Old Nogales and Nogales along with the usual traffic and school buses) there is the issue of water. The mines will be sucking up lots of H2O out of a desert aquifer, making the precious life supporting resource even more in demand and raising the cost. And, lets not forget the loss of biodiversity.