U.S. Reps. Raúl Grijalva and Ron Barber waded into the battle to block the Rosemont Mine in the Santa Catalinas with a plea to slow down the release of a final Environmental Impact Statement.
The U.S. Forest Service is pushing to release the Environmental Impact Statement before the end of September, but the two congressmen sent a letter last week to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack to continue the process to allow more public comment.
"The Forest Service has no obligation to rush through an environmental assessment," the letter reads. "The agency's duty, first and foremost, is to assess the proposed mine's impacts on Arizona's natural resources, water supplies, and public health. Such a review should take the time that is appropriate to ensure full input from the public and stakeholders. The impacts of this study will be permanent and demand full and careful review."
Grijalva and Barber suggested in the letter that the Forest Service is rushing the process because the agency wants to wrap up the process before new rules go into effect that could lead to further delays.
"We understand that there may be attempts to fast track analysis of agency comments in order to issue a record of decision by Sept. 27, 2013, to avoid the objection period process that will go into effect the following day," the letter reads. "An expedited review could lead to an incomplete and less thoughtful analysis of this interagency review. The Forest Service promulgated these regulations for the explicit purpose of resolving conflicts prior to a decision and there is no need to avoid following them for this particular (Final Environmental Impact Statement)."
Pima County Supervisor Ray Carroll, a Republican who has been one of the mine's fiercest opponents, said a delay would "show the Democratic ideal of public input."
"I don't always agree with the two congressmen," Carroll told The Skinny. "Yet they have been consistent and I imagine being together on this sends a clear bipartisan message."
Rosemont Copper President and CEO Rod Pace said via email that plenty of review has already taken place and "it's time" for the final report.
"The U.S. Forest Service, who is the lead agency for the process, has dedicated their staff to more than six years of research, analysis and engineering to study every aspect of the Rosemont Copper project," Pace said. "Those in leadership positions in our government know first-hand how long the process has taken and seek a timely conclusion to this effort after more than six years of work. They recognize the Grijalva/Barber delaying tactics for what they are."
PENSION PROP SIGNATURES CROPPED
The Skinny will boldly predict that incumbent Democrats Richard Fimbres, Steve Kozachik and Karin Uhlich will win their Democratic primaries next week, and Republicans Mike Polak and Ben Buehler-Garcia will prevail in their races.
That's a pretty easy call, given that there's no opposition in the Aug. 27 primaries. In fact, you can be forgiven if you didn't realize the election was coming up next week, as the campaigns haven't been overly aggressive just yet.
Meanwhile, it appears that the fate of the proposed initiative to scrap the city of Tucson's pension system and replace it with a 401(k)-style retirement plan remains up in the air.
Pima County Superior Court Judge James E. Marner ruled on Monday, Aug. 19, that thousands of signatures should be disqualified from the petitions because the signature gatherers had a variety of legal problems.
The exact number of signatures to be tossed remains unclear as of press time, but once the City Clerk's Office has stripped the flawed signatures from the petitions, a new random batch of signatures will be sent to the Pima County Recorder's Office to determine a revised accuracy rate and then the City Clerk's Office will have to calculate whether there are enough to put the proposition before Tucson voters this November.
Still, proposition supporters had plenty of buffer; they turned in nearly 23,000 signatures and needed just 12,730 valid signatures to qualify for the ballot.
Attorney Jeff Rogers, a former chairman of the Pima County Democratic Party, told The Skinny via email that the process is essentially "back to square one for the City Clerk's Office."
Attorney Lisa Hauser, who represented the Committee for Sustainable Retirement, sent the following statement to The Skinny via email: "It appears that the number of signatures disqualified by the court will fall short of what the plaintiffs needed to remove the initiative from the ballot—even if a new random sample is conducted. We are pleased that most of Plaintiffs allegations about unqualified circulators were rejected by the court. Even so, it also appears that some of the findings made against the committee were erroneous and that the number of disqualified signatures should be much lower. We are discussing our options with counsel."
City officials have warned that proposition, if passed by the voters, would have a huge fiscal impact on the city's general fund.