A federal judge issued a decision on Wednesday that blocks – for now – construction at a controversial mine northwest of Sonoita.

U.S. District Judge James Soto wrote that the U.S. Forest Service violated federal mining laws when it approved the plans for Rosemont Mine, which would impact about 3,653 acres of land in the Coronado National Forest.

The $1.9 billion project would be the third-largest copper mine in the country, according to the company behind the plans.

“We are heartened that the federal judge recognized that the Forest Service fell short in their duty to protect public lands and resources,” said Gayle Hartmann, president of Save the Scenic Santa Ritas, one of several environmental groups that had filed lawsuits seeking to block the mine.

At issue is the forest service’s review and ultimate approval of plans for the mine.

Although the mine was expected to have adverse affects on thousands of acres of national forest land – including damage to soil, plants, wildlife, and Native American burial grounds belonging to the Tohono O’odham Nation, Pasqua Yaqui Tribe and Hopi Tribe – the forest service approved the project based on acceptance of Rosemont’s claims to mining rights on the land.

But Soto wrote that the company’s claims were invalid because 2,447 acres of the land did not contain any valuable mineral deposits.

Rosemont wanted to use those acres to dump 1.9 billion tons of waste and said that the copper found on another 955 acres of the land meant that the entire claim was valid.

Hudbay Minerals, the Canadian mining firm that owns Rosemont, said that it would appeal the decision.

Judge Soto is a native of Nogales and formerly served as a judge at Santa Cruz County Superior Court.

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