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Arizona Tribes Challenge Permit for Open-Pit Copper Mine

Mike Christy/Arizona Daily Star 2014

Three Native American tribes went to court Wednesday to oppose a planned open-pit copper mine in southern Arizona.

A complaint, jointly filed in U.S. District Court by the Tohono O'odham Nation, Pascua Yaqui Tribe and Hopi Tribe, is challenging the permit issued to Rosemont Copper Company. The company wants to excavate an open-pit mine in the Santa Rita Mountains near Tucson.

The tribes argue the operation would have a detrimental impact on water and cultural resources that have supported them for generations, according to a statement from attorneys at environmental law firm Earthjustice.

With the permit, Rosemont is a step closer to excavating a mile-wide by half-mile deep open pit mine. Tribal officials say the project would send tons of waste rock onto nearby land and destroy streams that are federally protected.

"The few short-term jobs that this mine will create are not worth the destruction that we will have to live with forever," Pascua Yaqui Tribal Chairman Robert Valencia said in a statement.

The challenge comes two weeks after environmental groups filed their own lawsuit. Save the Scenic Santa Ritas, the Center for Biological Diversity, the Arizona Mining Reform Coalition and the Arizona Grand Canyon Chapter of the Sierra Club all say the mine would bring harm to wildlife and protected lands.

The permit was issued by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers last month.

Officials with Hudbay Minerals Inc. of Toronto, which controls Rosemont, have previously said plans for the mine were designed with environmental and other laws in mind. The approval of the water permit indicates the project abides by government requirements.

Thomas "Jay" Field, an Army Corps of Engineers spokesman, said Wednesday the agency has a policy of not commenting on pending litigation. A spokesman for Hudbay did not immediately return an email seeking comment.

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