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Planned copper mine near Tucson faces delay

TUCSON, Ariz. -- A planned copper mine in the Santa Rita Mountains near Tucson is facing another delay after the federal government announced it would restart reviews examining the project's effects on endangered species.

The Arizona Daily Star reports that the reviews guarantee another delay for the Rosemont Mine after seven years of permitting efforts.

Rosemont Copper's parent company, Augusta Resource Corp., had hoped for a final decision from the U.S. Forest Service by June 30. But the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has said the new reviews are needed in part because of new information about the species' presence or threats to their habitat.

The reviews will focus on the endangered ocelot and five imperiled fish, frog, plant and bird species that depend on Cienega Creek and other streams. Also up for review are the Western yellow-billed cuckoo and the northern Mexican garter snake, which could be listed soon as endangered or threatened.

The proposed mine would put an open pit in the Santa Rita Mountains. The mine and its associated tailings and waste rock areas would be located on more than 4,400 acres of federal, state and private land.

If the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service concludes the mine would jeopardize a species' existence or illegally damage critical habitat, that could stop the mine. More commonly, the federal government requires mitigation plans from the company.

Federal officials can't say how long the additional reviews will take. Under federal law, the Fish and Wildlife Service's review by itself isn't supposed to take more than 135 days.

In a written statement, Augusta noted that the wildlife service has already gone through one review and concluded that the mine won't jeopardize endangered species or critical habitat.

"Although this delay is unfortunate, we recognize the need to have a robust and comprehensive decision document that includes all the required analysis," said Gil Clausen, Augusta's president and CEO. "Further, the (Forest Service) has committed to dedicating the appropriate resources to this analysis and to ensure that the work is done expeditiously."

But the decision to start new reviews proves once again that the mine is a "terrible, ill-conceived idea," countered Sergio Avila, a biologist for the conservationist Sky Island Alliance. "We already know that this project could impact the surface and subsurface water, protected species and non-protected species. The company must address laws and regulations protecting public lands and habitats."

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