The Tohono O’odham Nation, Pascua Yaqui Tribe, and Hopi Tribes have requested a temporary restraining order to prevent Rosemont Copper Company from grading the west side of the Santa Rita Mountains and discharging fill material into jurisdictional waters. Rosemont recently commenced bulldozing the site without notifying the Tribes, causing severe and irreversible harm to tribal cultural resources, waters of the United States, and critical wildlife habitat. The Tribes are seeking emergency relief to prevent further harm until the Court can rule on a motion for a preliminary injunction.
“Rosemont is once again attempting to push forward with its destructive project, causing permanent harm to sacred sites and waterways,” said Tohono O’odham Nation Chairman Ned Norris, Jr. “Their continued disregard for tribal consultation, mitigation, and other obligations under federal law further demonstrates why this latest damaging action must be halted immediately. The Nation will continue to work with fellow tribes to protect our cultural and natural resources from reckless destruction by a foreign mining company.”
This is the second time that Rosemont has attempted to rush construction of its proposed mines before the Court can rule on the merits of the Tribes’ challenge to the Rosemont Clean Water Act Section 404 Permit. In 2019, the company attempted the same thing on the east side of the mountain only to be halted by the Court’s decision vacating the U.S. Forest Service’s approval of the mine. Rosemont has now expanded its mine plans to include over 3,400 acres on the west side of the mountains, which also depends on the company having the necessary Clean Water Act permit. In response to a 2019 court order, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has suspended the permit pending further agency review. Neither Rosemont nor the Corps informed the Tribes before ground-disturbing activities commenced.
“A temporary restraining order is necessary to prevent additional irreparable harm to cultural and environmental resources in the region,” said Stu Gillespie, senior attorney with Earthjustice’s Rocky Mountain office, who filed the motion on behalf of the Tribes. “The Army Corps of Engineers had a mandatory obligation to comprehensively evaluate the mine expansion and consult with the Tribes before any ground-clearing activities started so important sites can be identified and protected. The Corps failed to do so, violating the law.”
The Santa Rita Mountains are home to sacred sites, ancestral villages, and burial grounds, and provide plants, animals, and mineral resources critical to maintaining the Tribes’ culture. The Tribes believe these sites, as well as the seeps, springs, and waters that run throughout the mountains, are sacred, with deep spiritual significance.
The Corps has previously acknowledged that filling ephemeral streams, which is actively occurring on the site, causes “cascading and cumulative downstream effects… resulting in significant, actual environmental harms.” Filling these streams cuts off the lifeblood of downstream waters, such as the Santa Cruz River. It also degrades habitat used by migrating songbirds traveling through the region. Rosemont’s operations will also impact critical habitat for the last jaguar population in the United States, “El Jefe.”
In 2019, a judge ruled in favor of the Tribes challenge to the Forest Service’s approval of plans to raze ancestral lands for a mile-wide open-pit copper mine on the east side of the mountains. That landmark ruling is currently on appeal and awaiting a decision from the 9th Circuit.
Read the Tribes’ Memorandum in Support of Motion for Temporary Restraining Order.
Photos are available upon request.