By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
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Because the Carlota Mine involves wetlands, once the Forest Service signs off on the Environmental Impact Statement, the ball rolls to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which has to issue a document known as a Section 404 permit so that Carlota can move the waterways before mining can begin.
Only the Environmental Protection Agency can veto the 404 application, but as one official at that agency said, "It's very rare that EPA uses that trump card."
The state and federal regulatory agencies found the first draft of the Carlota EIS to be sketchy and incomplete, but they admit that they really have little authority to stop this or any other mine--regardless of how bad it is. With the exception of the EPA with its seldom-used veto power, they can only register their complaints and make suggestions to the Forest Service and the Corps of Engineers.
What will likely happen with the Carlota Mine is that the Environmental Impact Statement will be smoothed and polished until every agency is satisfied.
The mine will be environmentally sound, or at least environmentally reasonable.
On paper, anyway.
Deborah Ham, a Globe attorney swept up in the tiny grassroots opposition to the Carlota Mine, is trying to remind the Forest Service that it can stop the project, even if it won't.
"All the Forest Service knows how to say is '1872 Mining Law, 1872 Mining Law,'" she says. "That's their opinion. I disagree somewhat: There's a law that says you have to prove a reasonable plan of operation. And I would contend that not every plan can be made reasonable."
Even Cambior executives question whether they should have ever considered mining Carlota.
"Our initial fatal flaw of our analysis," says Jock McGregor, the president of Carlota Mining and a vice president of Cambior, "is that before we went ahead, we didn't identify the specific major problems in discussions with the Forest Service because we're right next door to Magma/Pinto Valley. And so it surprised us that the permitting process is taking so long.
"Right now we've spent over $30 million, and we still have no indication whether we're going to get a permit. That's very high-risk money."
McGregor, who speaks with a charming Scottish accent, had been working on the project since 1988, when he was an executive at Westmont, the company bought out by Cambior. Seven years later, he is still waiting to hear if the mine will go ahead. His patience is wearing thin.
There is something drastically wrong with a system that could, in theory, allow an entrepreneur to spend seven years and $30 million, and then inform him that his project can't go through.
So, to some extent, McGregor's frustration is warranted. While navigating the oceans of bureaucratic documents, he says, "You have to keep reproducing the same information rewritten in a slightly different way. It's amazing how expensive and time-consuming that is, and it doesn't add anything to the protection of the environment."
McGregor directs his ire at the usual environmental bogeymen, the federal regulatory agencies.
In a March letter to the Corps of Engineers, McGregor wrote, "It seems apparent to us that the EPA and [Fish and Wildlife Service] have never intended to do anything but recommend denial of the project either as an unwritten policy of opposing the development of natural resources or as a stalling technique to cover for not having done their allotted task of reviewing the document."
Later in the same letter, he wrote, "The FWS's, EPA's and [Arizona Game and Fish]'s current approach is uncooperative, obstructive, and prejudicial and simply cannot go unchallenged at this point in the process."
McGregor asked friends in high places to speed matters along.
On March 3, Arizona Congressman J.D. Hayworth wrote a letter to the Forest Service's Paul Stewart reminding him that Carlota had already spent $5 million on environmental studies (it had to foot the bill for the Forest Service's Draft EIS) and it deserved to get its "state of the art" mine going.
And on May 11, Arizona Senator Jon Kyl sent a letter to Stewart's boss, Tonto National Forest Supervisor Charles Bazan, that began, "We are writing to express our concern with the inordinate amount of time the Forest Service is taking to complete the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the Carlota Company Mine," citing that the company had spent $4 million on environmental studies and had even covered some of the personnel costs of expediting the paperwork--namely, Paul Stewart's salary for the project.
The clear message of the letter was: They've spent a lot of money, they deserve their property rights. And Hayworth and Kyl were not the only U.S. legislators willing to shill on behalf of a Canadian company so that the federal government could hand over federal lands to them.
Congressman Hayworth also signed Kyl's letter, and so did Arizona Senator John McCain, Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell and Congressman Wayne Allard from Colorado, Senator Frank Murkowski and Congressman Don Young from Alaska and Senator Larry Craig of Idaho. Of the Arizona delegation, only Hayworth agreed to talk to the Top of the World opponents of the mine. Donna Goodale likened his spiel to that of "a used-car salesman," and she and others felt he had no grasp of the project, but he nevertheless stood dogmatically firm on its going ahead.