By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
Hayworth, incidentally, when asked by the Arizona Republic about the campaign contributions he received from mining and other PACs, pooh-poohed the suggestion that he represented special interests. "We are working to maintain the interests of Mr. and Mrs. America," he said. Not surprisingly, neither Hayworth nor Kyl returned phone calls from New Times.
The Forest Service issued its Draft Environmental Impact Statement in January of this year. In May, at the end of the legal comment period, the toxic reviews from the environmental regulatory agencies washed in like a desert flash flood.
The EPA gave the document its worst possible rating, EU-3, meaning that the project was not only environmentally unsatisfactory but that the document itself was poorly prepared. EPA has not issued such a low rating since April of 1990, even though it has reviewed close to 200 DEIS documents since then. The agency asked the Forest Service to either withdraw the document or prepare supplements and extend the public review period. The Forest Service refused and EPA subsequently informed the Council of Environmental Quality in Washington, D.C.--the ultimate arbiter of environmental agencies--that a fight was brewing.
EPA worried that the mine's potential for releasing contaminants into the water was not adequately addressed in the DEIS.
"It will be acid out there for a long time," says the EPA's Jeanne Dunn Geselbracht. "There is no way of neutralizing that heap."
At stake was the rare riparian environment downstream on Pinto Creek, which the EPA termed an "Aquatic Resource of National Importance," and the Forest Service had nominated as a Wild and Scenic River.
EPA reiterated Donna Goodale's concerns that the mine would draw down the water table and dry up the stream. It worried about the endangered hedgehog cactus and the loss of a wildlife corridor. EPA raised air-quality issues, as well, especially since the proposed mine is within a scant few miles of a wilderness area.
Other agencies raised similar concerns, Fish and Wildlife, for example, which went so far as to ask the Corps of Engineers to deny the 404 permit.
Criticism of the mining plan as laid out in the DEIS rolled in from all corners. The Arizona Game and Fish Department bemoaned its impact on wildlife habitat. The National Park Service theorized that the air pollution and mine blasting would contribute to the deterioration of nearby Tonto National Monument. The Association of Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics noted the possible adverse effects on habitat and warned of the likelihood that the diversion channels could fail. Even the local plumbers union spoke out against the project, fearing bad safety conditions and the invasion of a transient work force that would tear up the landscape and then go off and leave a mess behind.
"We're the ones who have to live here," says Wayne Bryant of the Plumbers and Steamfitters Union of Southern Arizona.
Attorney Deborah Ham, who has spearheaded local opposition to the mine, and Aimee Boulanger of the Mineral Policy Center's Durango, Colorado, office launched massive Freedom of Information requests to learn all they could about Carlota and Cambior.
After appealing to Washington, D.C., for some documents that the Tonto refused to turn over, Boulanger turned up some scientific information that the Forest Service had been trying to hide under a rock, and that suggested that Carlota's proposal might not be safe--which could inconveniently get in the way of the mine's startup.
Last October, Dennis Inman, a geologist and landslide expert with the Forest Service's regional office in Albuquerque, issued a troubling report to his boss, which was then reviewed by other geologists and then forwarded to the Tonto National Forest.
Based on his study of aerial photographs and data on the Carlota project, Inman felt sure that he was looking at a landslide waiting to happen.
"The consultants have assigned unrealistic strength values to these rocks above the [. . .] pits," he wrote.
He saw three potential disasters: If a landslide plugged the Pinto Creek diversion channel, it could turn the creek right into the pit. Cleaning up after that and redirecting the stream flow to the diversion channel would be costly, if possible at all.
If the slope gave way above the big pit, it could cause loss of life.
"There's a possibility that the whole hillside to the southwest of the pit could come in and fill their pit," Inman says, "and that means that they're basically done if it comes in to the degree I think it's going to come."
If a slide filled the Powers Gulch diversion channel, it would send that water into the heap-leach pad and carry its sulfuric acid down into Roosevelt Lake.
"This is the headwaters for the main water basin for the city of Phoenix," Inman continues. "You'd think that the inhabitants of Phoenix would be enraged."
Inman flew to Arizona to check on his suspicions, but before he made it out to the mine site, he suffered a heart attack and ended up in a hospital in Phoenix.
The Forest Service was alarmed by Inman's preliminary findings--and, according to Jock McGregor, embarrassed, as well.
The Forest Service asked the U.S. Geologic Service to go into the field and check Inman's research. Inman feels it was shopping for the answers it wanted.