Arizona’s long legacy of copper mining started in the 1870s in Southern Arizona. By 1907, the region led the world in copper production. Today, it is a $6 billion a year industry.
Now, copper is at the center of one of the largest construction projects ever in Southern Arizona. It is expected to lift economies in three counties for years to come.
Construction of the $1.9 billion project, Rosemont Copper Mine, is about to start near the site where the ore was first mined, the historic Rosemont Mining District southeast of Tucson.
Hudbay Minerals, Inc., the owner and builder of the project, has its own rich history, tracing back to its founding name – the Hudson Bay Mining and Smelting Co. The Canadian company has been associated with mining for 85 years. Today, it’s a global giant.
The corporation hopes to begin construction next month. In a major milestone, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issued the final permit needed last month for the Rosemont project, situated 30 miles southeast of Tucson in Pima County.
“More than $100 million was spent over the 11 plus years – through three U.S. presidents – to complete the permitting process for the Rosemont Project,” said Andre Lauzon, Vice President of Hudbay’s Arizona Business Unit.
Mining powerhouse spent years earning approval
When completed, Rosemont will be the third largest mine in the United States, producing 10 percent of the country’s copper, company officials said. The nation’s largest copper mine, Morenci Mine, is about 150 miles northeast of Rosemont.
Since Hudbay acquired the Rosemont project in 2014, the prospect of a new mine has spawned public controversy with environmental lawsuits, tribal concerns over potential burial sites and medicinal plants, and citizens’ groups banding against it.
In response, Rosemont is required to spend more than $150 million to address those concerns, including conservation and environmental protection and community projects.
Now, all the required federal agencies have signed off on the project. The U.S. Forest Service has declared it in compliance with all environmental laws and regulations. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service declared the project will not cause significant harm to big-cat species like jaguars and ocelots, a concern of citizen groups.
Strong local business support
Businesses and business advocacy groups support the mine including the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Tucson Metro Chamber, Green Valley/Sahuarita Chamber, Benson/San Pedro Chamber, Southern Arizona Business Coalition, Southeast Arizona Economic Development Group, Arizona Mining Association, and AMIGOS (Arizona Mining Industry Gets Our Support).
For Southern Arizona, the new industry will uplift the economies of three counties, they said.
Rosemont to lift economies in three counties
Pima, Cochise and Santa Cruz counties will see high paying jobs and local vendors are projected to benefit from $90 to $224.2 million a year in direct purchases over the life of the project, according to the U.S. Forest Service Final Environmental Impact Statement.
The mine is projected to generate an estimated $350 million in new local tax revenues and $107.6 million in tax revenues from direct and indirect employees over the life of the mine, according to the impact statement and an economic impact study by Arizona State University conducted in June 2018.
Thousands of higher paying jobs
Construction is projected to take 2.5 years, and will create over 2,500 direct jobs and 4,060 total jobs during construction, according to the U.S. Forest Service impact statement.
Wages to direct employees will average more than twice the current median annual income in Pima County, company officials said. They expect to employ over 500 full- time employees directly in mining and process operations, and general administration during active mining operations.
A $150 million requirement to conservation, community projects
Getting the project permitted has been an exhaustive process, company documents show.
Rosemont has been thoroughly reviewed. Over 1,000 studies were conducted by 17 cooperating agencies at various levels of government, and over 43,000 public comments were submitted and reviewed by the agencies, said Lauzon.
“The efforts and actions of Rosemont have resulted in a precedent-setting, world-class environmental mitigation plan whose benefits will be felt in the community far into the future,” he said.
The mitigation plan requires the corporation to spend more than $150 million in community projects including conservation and protection for thousands of acres near the site and recreational and cultural amenities.
Among them, Hudbay is purchasing the rights to a large volume of surface water in Cienega Creek to enhance the watershed; establishing a permanent endowment fund to support conservation, cultural and recreational projects in Southern Arizona in perpetuity; and paying tribal monitors during construction to ensure any burial grounds are not desecrated.
Here are some of the highlights:
- Construction of a pipeline to bring Central Arizona Project water to the Sahuarita. area, in partnership with Community Water Company of Green Valley.
- Recharge 100 percent of water used throughout the life of the project.
- Provide a well-owners protection program to residents who may be affected by changes in groundwater levels to mitigate any impacts.
- Fund extensive mitigation and monitoring measures for endangered species, including big-cat camera studies such as jaguars and ocelots.
- Conserve 3,297 acres of land for conservation, recreation, cultural, and open space uses.
- Conserve the Sonoita Creek Ranch, a 1,580 acre property with year-round flowing water.
- Remove invasive, non-native species, and create new habitats for endangered species such as the yellow billed cuckoo and southwest willow flycatcher.
Strong support from business, economic development groups
Business and economic development groups that support the Rosemont project include:
- Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry
- Tucson Metro Chamber
- Green Valley/Sahuarita Chamber
- Benson/San Pedro Chamber
- Arizona Mining Association
- Southern Arizona Business Coalition
- AMIGOS (Arizona Mining Industry Gets Our Support)
- Southeast Arizona Economic Development Group