A state administrative judge has upheld a groundwater permit the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality issued to Rosemont Copper Company.
The judge reviewed testimony from ADEQ officials who initially approved the permit, engineers hired by Rosemont, and data from Save the Scenic Santa Ritas, an environmental organization opposed to the proposed Rosemont Copper Mine in the Santa Rita Mountain range southeast of Tucson.
Save the Scenic Santa Ritas brought the appeal, saying the groundwater permit shouldn't have been issued in the first place.
“We just feel like the ADEQ failed to conduct an independent evaluation of all the data that was provided by Rosemont. We tried to prove that with a judge and he didn’t accept any of our findings," said Gregory Shinsky, a board member of Save the Scenic Santa Ritas.
The administrative judge was not impartial, Shinsky said, because he is a state employee, as are the ADEQ employees who approved the permit in the first place.
But Rosemont officials said the review was appropriate. The judge upheld the groundwater permit after months of consideration, said Kathy Arnold, a Rosemont Copper Company vice president who oversees government regulation.
"The technical documents support our position and they support what we should be able to do and unfortunately just thinking that there might be a problem isn’t enough," Arnold said.
The groundwater permit allows Rosemont Copper Company to begin construction and use of water facilities, Arnold said. That includes ponds that could be used at tailings sites, she said.
While the company's permit remains in effect, Shinsky and Arnold said the appeals process could continue. Save the Scenic Santa Ritas could sue in state court, or could appeal the decision again through the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality.
The organization has not yet decided whether to appeal, Shinsky said.