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Southeast residents get heated at Copper World Mine meeting

Their concerns about pending aquifer protection permit
Southeast residents get heated at Copper World Mine meeting
Posted at 11:25 AM, Feb 22, 2024
and last updated 2024-02-22 13:25:54-05

CORONA DE TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — A Tuesday night meeting hosted by the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) gave community members a public stage to voice their opinions about the Copper World Mine coming to the Santa Rita Mountains area.

It's a project headed by Canadian company Hudbay Minerals Inc.

Meeting attendees were able to ask ADEQ questions about the Aquifer Protection Permit Hudbay applied for.

And things got a little heated.

Residents expressed concerns about Hudbay monitoring its own wells, some calling it a "fox watching the hen house" situation.

Others also brought up fears regarding potential groundwater contaminants from harmful chemicals and mining waste.

Mixed in with the mine opponents were people in green hats that read "Mining Matters." It's a group in favor of Copper World.

“This is not done in a vacuum," said Rick Grinnell, co-founder of the Southern Arizona Business Coalition — a group that works collaboratively with Mining Matters.

"This is done in a much more holistic process throughout many agencies in Arizona that protect the communities, protect the water, protect the air.”

In a statement from Hudbay, the company states it welcomes feedback from the community but is following the environmental regulations:

Hudbay has full confidence in ADEQ’s rigorous review of our permit application. We firmly believe that the agency would not proceed with this permit unless we had demonstrated that Copper World's operations will meet Arizona's environmental standards, including groundwater quality.
Hudbay Minerals Inc.

“What came across really that it’s going to be really hard for ADEQ to say no to giving this water permit," expressed Rob Peters, executive director of Save the Scenic Santa Ritas (SSSR).

The group is currently suing Hudbay, alongside the Farmer's Investment Co, over an alleged open meeting law violation. SSSR reports that Hudbay made changes to a Right-Of-Way permit that originally agreed to two pipelines at the mine.

Now it’s six.

They said because there wasn’t notice of the changes and no chance for a public meeting, the pipeline additions and the overall permit approval should be void.

This cast even more doubt on the Copper World plans, so the group invested in a hydrologist and mining engineer to look at the aquifer protection permit too.

“We think they’re coming up with some aspects in which this permit fails,” Peters said.

Tuesday's meeting was an informal gathering, but the public hearing on the permit is scheduled for Tuesday, March 5.

SSSR has until March 11 to submit further comments and findings to ADEQ. The deadline has already been extended 60 days since it first opened.

But there is a lot of information for them to review.

"How is the public supposed to digest this highly technical document and have meaningful assessment of it, meaningful comments in 60 days? It's really inadequate," Peters noted.

Despite all concerns voiced by the public, ADEQ stressed it'll ensure everything checks out. And if not, it has the ability to shut the plant down.

“(Hudbay) can do what they want to do and how they want to do it," explained ADEQ employee David Kim. "We’re here to make sure they’re doing it in accordance with the law.”

Mikenzie Hammel joined the KGUN 9 team as a multimedia journalist in the summer of 2023. She graduated from Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism with her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees. With her passion for human connection and visual storytelling, Mikenzie is honored to share the stories of Tucson and southeastern Arizona. Share your story ideas and important issues with Mikenzie by emailing