The site of the Hermosa mining project in the Patagonia Mountains.

South32 is set to hold a community forum in September regarding two water-related state permits that the Australia-based company is seeking as it continues developing its Hermosa Project in the Patagonia Mountains

During a presentation to the County Board of Supervisors last Wednesday, South32 representatives gave a brief explanation of their plans for the Hermosa Project and the purpose of each permit that they are seeking.

“We are preparing to restart the development of our exploration decline,” said Angela Watt, South32’s underground development manager for the Hermosa Project. She added that the underground drilling would help the company better understand the mineral resources at the site and determine the best way to extract them.

However, in order to reach the mineral deposits, she said, the company must first remove the water sitting above and process it at a water treatment plant before discharging it.

After the water is treated, another South32 representative explained, it will be discharged into Harshaw Creek at an expected initial rate of 4,500 gallons per minute, which they expect to later decrease to about 2,000 to 3,000 gallons per minute.

“You might wonder why in the world we have to treat just natural groundwater before you can discharge it,” the representative said. “It turns out, in this area, even just the naturally occurring groundwater doesn’t meet all of the surface water quality standards the (state) has set.”

Brent Musslewhite, South32’s director of environment and permitting, said the first permit they are seeking is known as the Aquifer Protection Permit, which would authorize operations and additional improvements at the water treatment plant. The second permit, called the Arizona Pollutant Discharge Elimination System, would allow and regulate the water that is being discharged.

Prior to the company’s presentation, Carolyn Shafer, representing the Town of Patagonia’s Flood and Flow Committee, addressed the supervisors to express a few concerns.

“South32’s proposed industrial mining activity will have a major impact on the health of the (Sonoita Creek) watershed,” said Shafer, who is also a member of the watchdog Patagonia Area Resource Alliance.

“We know that South32 has done extensive hydrogeological studies in and around its proposed mine site,” she said, and asked for that information to be shared with the local community to help people to make informed decisions about the bioregion.

The South32 representatives did not address Schafer’s request. Instead, they encouraged anyone with questions and concerns to participate in the company’s September community forum, which is still to be finalized.

“The purpose of that event is to answer more questions and provide more detail, and also to have additional resources to support and facilitate technical discussions that we know are going to be necessary,” Musslewhite said.

Members of the public can also forward their questions and concerns about South32’s Hermosa project to hermosacommunity@South32.net.

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