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OCELOT'S MORE TROUBLE FOR ROSEMONT

Last week's TW examined Rosemont's Copper's problems with acquiring a Section 404 permit under the Clean Water Act, which is key to getting approval for its plans for a mile-wide open-pit mine in the Santa Rita Mountains southeast of Tucson. (See "Water Pressure, May 22.)

Here's more bad news for Rosemont: The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has told the U.S. Forest Service it intends to reinitiate its consultation with the federal agency regarding the Final Biological and Conference Opinion.

In a May 16 letter to Coronado National Forest Supervisor Jim Upchurch, Fish and Wildlife Field Supervisor Steven L. Spangle said that the consultation had to be re-evaluated for several reasons, including the impact on habitat for the rare-but-recently-photographed ocelot, as well as Southern Arizona waterways.

Rosemont officials downplayed the development in a press release.

"While we are disappointed with any delay, our expectation is that these final issues will be handled in a timely, expeditious manner," said Gil Clausen, president and CEO of Augusta Resource Corporation, the parent company of Rosemont Copper.

But Rosemont acknowledged that the permitting process, which is supposed to culminate with a Record of Decision from the U.S. Forest Service, would not likely be completed by the end of June, as the company had previously projected.

"The USFS has commented informally that it may not be in a position to issue the final Record of Decision (ROD) by the end of the second quarter of 2014," according to today's press release. "However, until the USFS determines whether consultation with the US FWS must be re-initiated and publishes the definitive ROD schedule, expected by the end of May, it is uncertain when the ROD will be issued. The company believes that the ROD may be delayed until the third quarter of 2014."

Mine opponents saw the letter as another major setback for the mining company.

"The Army Corps already decided that Rosemont's mitigation plan falls woefully short of compensating for the damage it would do, and now the Fish and Wildlife Service is indicating that the mine's impacts could be worse than it feared," said Randy Serraglio of the Center for Biological Diversity in a press release. "Taken together, these decisions are a one-two punch that could be a knockout."

In other Rosemont news, the financially squeezed company announced that one of its lenders had agreed to release $6 million to the company ahead of schedule. That could give the company breathing room while it fights off a hostile takeover attempt by Hudbay Minerals.

CHARGE OF THE FLIGHT BRIGADE

The fight to keep the A-10 flying—and, in the process, prevent Davis-Monthan Air Force base from ending up on a closure list—got a boost last week when the Senate Armed Services Committee voted to support the combat jet.

Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) said the committee had a proposal to keep the Air Force from mothballing the A-10.

"The A-10 is an exceptional aircraft that provides direct support to our troops on the ground, and this action helps prevent a gap in that capability that retirement of the A-10 would create," Levin said.

Meanwhile, the House version of the 2015 National Defense Authorization Act passed the full House last week on a 325-98 vote.

While arguing in favor of the bill on the House floor last week, Barber said Southern Arizona was "the proud home of Davis-Monthan Air Force Base and the A-10 Thunderbolt. This heavily armed plane we call the Warthog may be ugly, but it flies slow and low and provides close air support and protection to our troops like no other aircraft we have today."

But whether the legislation will survive a trip to the White House remains to be seen. The Obama administration's Office of Management and Budget released a memo earlier last that listed a variety of reasons why senior advisors would recommend a veto of the House version of the 2015 National Defense Authorization Act.

Among those reasons: Barber's amendment preventing the Air Force from moving forward with plans to retire the A-10.

There are plenty of other policy issues that the Statement of Administrative Policy cites, including provisions limiting the ability of the administration to transfer prisoners from Guantanamo Bay, retention of all ICBM silos now in operation, and a provision that blocks the administration from proceeding with any plans to close any military bases. But Barber's amendment got special attention in the memo, which cited an objection to a provision that "would restrict DOD from obligating or expending funds to retire A-10 aircraft. Divesting the A-10 will save over $4.2 billion through FY 2019."

Barber said he "respectfully disagree(d)" with Obama administration's position.

"I have talked to soldiers and Marines in Afghanistan who know firsthand how valuable the A-10 is in protecting our ground troops," Barber said in a prepared statement. "I have listened to A-10 pilots and ground controllers who have been in combat situations with this airplane. Everybody says 'keep the A-10 flying.' They agree that there is no better close air support airframe available today."

By Jim Nintzel

Find early and late-breaking Skinny at The Range, our daily dispatch at daily.tucsonweekly.com

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