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TUCSON, Ariz. -- Opponents have failed to prove that a proposed new open pit mine near Tucson would harm groundwater supplies, an administrative judge recently ruled.

The Arizona Daily Star reports that Law Judge Thomas Shedden upheld last week the Rosemont Mine's aquifer protection permit from the state. Opponents didn't show that the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality's granting of the permit was "arbitrary, unreasonable, unlawful, or based upon a technical judgment that was clearly invalid," he said.

The permit allows Rosemont Copper Co. to discharge materials if it can show that it's using the best-known technology to prevent pollutants from reaching groundwater.

Shedden's ruling dismisses 19 issues raised by 11 individuals and five environmental groups opposing the proposed mine. They contended the state permit will allow Rosemont Copper to pollute local groundwater supplies.

If Shedden's decision is upheld by the state Water Quality Appeals Board, litigation will be the opponents' only recourse on the water permit, which ADEQ issued a little more than a year ago.

The appeals board will hear the case on July 8.

The company seeks to mine 243 million pounds of copper annually in an open pit in the Santa Rita Mountains southeast of Tucson.

Rosemont Copper also needs a favorable decision from the U.S. Forest Service and a federal Clean Water Act permit from the Army Corps of Engineers.

"We are gratified the judge made a thoughtful and detailed decision regarding the appeal and upholding ADEQ's permit," said Kathy Arnold, Rosemont Copper's vice president of environmental and regulatory affairs.

"During the hearing, the appellants were given every opportunity to back up their assertions with evidence, but failed to do so. The bottom line is that Rosemont's permit is amply supported by scientific studies and data, and meets all legal requirements."

Opponents said they were disappointed with Shedden's decision, particularly because he agreed with ADEQ's allowing the mine to do construction work for more than two years before setting formal discharge limits. That period gives time for the company to monitor existing water quality and for ADEQ to determine appropriate limits.

"That this permit could be issued demonstrates what a sham the so-called aquifer protection process is in Arizona," said Greg Shinsky, a neighboring resident and one of those appealing.

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Information from: Arizona Daily Star, http://www.azstarnet.com

Associated Press,

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