What you see is what you get” isn’t always true.
In fact, if you ask HudBay Minerals of Flin Flon, Manitoba, what it saw when it bought the Rosemont Copper property near Tucson, Arizona, for (Cdn) $516 million recently, you’d probably be told: “more than you can imagine.”
For starters, the 3,690-hectare property, located about 50km southeast of Tucson and immediately adjacent to Highway 83, (a State-designated “Scenic Route), has been the subject of much public debate regarding various proposals to build a copper mine on the site.
For decades, in fact, many developers have expressed interest in building an open-pit mine along the east side of the Santa Rita Mountains’ ridge to extract and process the estimated 7.2 billion pounds of copper on the Rosemont Copper property.
And, for nearly as long, environmental and other naturalist groups have been opposed to developing the property, particularly because the site is in clear view of ‘scenic’ Highway 83 and its many lookout points and, that a mine would permanently alter the landscape.
But more specifically, objections were expressed concerning the impact a mine would have on the quality and quantity of water in the area.
Like all mines, the proposed Rosemont Project will require water to operate and while there is an ample supply of it in and around the site, demands for aquifer protection and guarantees have resulted in delay-upon-delays to the project.
“In fact,” says Kathy Arnold, HudBay’s Director of Environment, “there have been more than 500 studies and technical reports written on this project over the past eight years; enough to take up more than 30 feet of shelf space. The reports range from the detailed Mine Plan of Operations (MPO) submitted to the United States Forest Service in 2007 initiating the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) process under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), to the hundreds of studies required to support not only this process but the other permits necessary for operation.
“It’s been an exhausting exercise to say the least but we’re confident that no stone has been left unturned, so to speak (and sorry for the pun), on this property and that every precaution has been taken into account for going forward with a beneficial project for the entire community.”
Arnold, also an Arizona resident and a former employee of the previous owners, Augusta Resource Corporation, Rosemont Copper Company, of Tucson, points out that a mine of this scale and magnitude has the potential to provide 400 direct and 1,700 indirect jobs to the community and an estimated $3 billion in increased personal income over the expected 20-year life of a mine.
Given that two-thirds of copper produced in the United States comes from Arizona and that mining has been a vital industry to the State for more than a Century, finding an undeveloped, commercially viable deposit is a rare occurrence.
And that’s one of the main reasons HudBay Minerals recently bought Augusta Resource Corporation for the rights to the Rosemont Property.
The deal was completed in September 2014 and by later that same month, HudBay had committed almost $8 million to a drilling program that would employ approximately 70 consultants and contractors.
A four-month program was put in place almost immediately whereby seven diamond drilling rigs were engaged to operate 24-hours a day, seven days a week, with a goal of reaching approximately 85,000 linear feet by the end of this month (December).
In support of the drilling and other activities at the designated Rosemont Project pit area, HudBay has set up a command centre at the nearby Hidden Valley Ranch.
In addition to her environmental responsibilities at the proposed mine site, Kathy Arnold also provides oversight to the ranch manager for the working ranch where the company also raises cattle for sale at market and for grazing to keep the vegetation adjacent to the mine area groomed and fertilized.
“Ranching dates back to around 1900 and while it has since declined, it still plays a part in HudBay’s master plan for the Rosemont project,” says Arnold.
“We have second and third-generation families still living and working at the Hidden Valley Ranch and a couple of them are now doing double duty by working at the proposed mine site gathering data from the various air and water monitoring stations located around the property.”
In addition, the ranch site and its buildings are used to share project information with the public on regularly scheduled tours. And, because of its picturesque setting and sprawling facilities, including a kitchen and outdoor BBQ, washrooms, high-speed internet services and meeting rooms, plus covered verandas and courtyards, the ranch is also used for on-site staff meetings
It was also used recently for a wedding reception for one of the company’s employees.
As mentioned earlier, the Rosemont Project is still in its relative infancy but mine safety and health administration requirements are paramount. Arnold says HudBay has made worker safety a priority.
“I know there’s not a lot of traffic or equipment on the site yet, nor are there many people, but the ground rules have been set and from the moment anyone is cleared to enter at the front gate to the moment they leave, they are in constant radio contact with “Security One,” says Arnold.
Contractors and employees alike maintain radio contact with site security and like mining itself, every person is accounted for at the end of the day before the lights are turned off and the front gate is locked.
“Nothing is left to chance here at Rosemont, especially when it comes to safety. It may look like a safe place with little more than a few roads criss-crossing some gently rolling hills but as every miner knows, those new roads can prove treacherous if speed and caution are not taken.
“Even older, well-compacted mine roads can be dangerous and because the drill access roads and routes are so new we have to be more careful,” says Arnold.
Like all new mining sites, the Rosemont Copper project is breaking new ground and as mentioned earlier, it’s making a fresh mark on the landscape and there too, Arnold says “being careful” is also a priority when it comes to biology.
“Biological studies looked at the existing biota and assessed the potential impact mining operations may have on identified desert plant species and wildlife. Particular emphasis was placed on native species in the Mine Plan area and we’ve now identified plants that will be protected or moved,” says Arnold.
“Plants can be salvaged for sale and monies raised from prior salvage activities have already been given back to the community.”
The Rosemont Copper Project has been under the microscope for many years, by many people, for many reasons, but regardless of what’s happened in the past, the project has the makings for a world-class open-pit mine that should serve as a good example of what can be achieved when answers are given before questions are asked.