Tony Davis, Arizona Daily Star

Posted: Sunday, November 13, 2011

Opponents of the Rosemont mine could have been the Arizona Wildcats football team Saturday, given the thrashing they took at the first public meeting on the mine's environmental report.

At the first of seven or maybe eight such meetings on the hotly contested Rosemont draft environmental impact statement, a sprinkling of a half-dozen or so voices against the mine were drowned out by a chorus of nearly 50 speakers in favor. The disparity was the product of a Rosemont Copper organizing effort that far outstripped that of the leading opposition group. Save the Scenic Santa Ritas has spent five years fighting the mine project.

At a meeting on Tucson's far east side that drew about 300 people, supporters spoke of Arizona's mining heritage and the 21st-century technologies Rosemont Copper says it will use. They talked about the widespread use of copper in hybrid cars and solar panels, the hard work they credited the Forest Service with doing on the environmental statement, and how U.S. mining rules are far stronger than those in foreign countries where copper is mined. Above all, they talked about jobs, jobs and more jobs.

"Yes to jobs" and "Yes to copper" were written on green paper badges worn by many of the supporters at the Palo Verde High School hearing. The badges were just part of Rosemont Copper's organizing effort. The company also printed up talking points for supporters to speak from: "Start by introducing yourself - say where you live, maybe how long you have lived in the area and any other information that ties you to the community." Rosemont officials invited supporters by mail, and then gathered them before the meeting at a local hotel to prep them.

"We need copper. We need jobs. The Rosemont company has worked diligently with all the agencies to try to mitigate all the impacts of the mine," said supporter Warren Hatcher of Marana, who described himself as an enthusiastic hiker and camper. "Copper is the only safe material for electricity. As we go to hybrids we need even more copper than in the past.

"We are all aware of the unfortunate people suffering from our economic downturn. This will be a great boon to the economy here."

What kind of Tucson will we have if the economy continues to deteriorate and the younger generation leaves, added John McCallum, a 60-year Tucson resident and Rosemont supporter.

"I love and want to protect the beauty of the mountains and desert. But I feel the number one thing is jobs. Without it, you have death, depression and decay. Without revenue, the quality of life suffers. Fire and local services are cut back. School systems deteriorate. Families suffer. Two of my children had to leave the state. One had her house foreclosed due to her employer downsizing."

Lawrence Dykers, a mining engineer who said he lives on a reclaimed mine dump in Marana, recalled that he served on a number of government committees and subcommittees dealing with mining regulations going back to 1961. The regulations are valuable to assure that everyone can live next to a mine without being poisoned, he said.

But, "by the same token, the same regulations have been sabotaged, and taken into a use not intended - to stop progress at any cost," Dykers said. "We would not have the things we have today without the mineral industry to provide raw materials."

One of the few speakers against the mine was Robert Binnie, a biochemist and researcher who has lived in the Tucson area for most of the past 50 years. He said that instead of providing 20 years of steady jobs, the mine's employment is likely to be up and down, causing workers to buy homes, get laid off and start over.

"If you don't believe me, go take a look at San Manuel, where the mine there is played out and the town is gone," Binnie said. "What they say is reclaimed looks like a wasteland because it is . . . To hear some speakers, you think this is a nonprofit company coming here to bring jobs and money when in fact this is a for-profit company that will take resources and money out of the country."

More typical was Bill Assenmacher, president and CEO of Caid Industries, who noted that his company is hiring welders and machinists, many of them for mining-related work. He said he plans to make Rosemont one of his best customers.

"We do want Rosemont to follow all the rules. We want to see the process moving on diligently. If someone wants to come to your community and bring in jobs - and spend a billion dollars, why do we throw roadblocks at them?" Assenmacher said.

Virtually absent from the testimony was any mention of strengths or weaknesses of the environmental impact statement - the public meeting's purpose. Quick to point that out was Gayle Hartmann, president of Save the Scenic Santa Ritas, who dismissed Saturday's session as "a pep rally."

She acknowledged that her group had done a less-than-stellar job of organizing opponents, and said that she herself was late to the meeting due to a personal commitment. But she said this meeting reminded her of an early public meeting on the mine in 2008 when Rosemont also hustled to get supporters to testify in favor of the mine.

"People were misled about this mine - there will only be a small number of jobs," Hartmann said. The company has estimated 400 to 450 jobs during operation plus 2,100 construction jobs. She also predicted the country will be well past its current economic slump by the time Rosemont opens, if it does.

Rosemont President Rod Pace countered that the opponents held workshops recently to teach people how to effectively comment on the draft. The mining company's tactic this time was to send out letters to people on a "huge" supporter list to invite them to the meeting, then meet with them ahead of time at the Radisson Hotel, 6555 E. Speedway, "to talk to them a little bit, to tell the Forest Service what they feel either way.

"I'm astonished at how many people came out to support Rosemont and that there were so few opponents," Pace said.

Contact reporter Tony Davis at tdavis@azstarnet.com or 806-7746.

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