Just Because

April/01/2013 14:26PM
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Small groups are like beavers that dam up the streams of progress in our country. They need no facts to stop progress of any kind. Blocking domestic energy sources and killing jobs. Here’s another excellent example to go along with the Keystone Pipeline and the near stoppage of activity on public lands. They are going after fracking, the greatest boon to our current mortibund economy and the biggest tax break we all get with cheap natural gas.

By Brandon LoomisThe Republic  |  azcentral.comMon Apr  1, 2013  9:23 AM

An energy company that closed its uranium mine near Grand Canyon National Park in the 1990s is raising environmental hackles with its plans to resume operations.

Energy Fuels Resources intends to reopen its Canyon Mine despite a 20-year federal ban on new uranium mining, imposed early last year by the Interior Department, that covers 1 million acres near the Canyon.

The company says the ban doesn’t apply because its rights are grandfathered, and the federal government agrees.

Environmentalists and the Havasupai Tribe counter that those rights were granted before science was able to show the full potential impact of uranium mining, which opponents fear will poison water that feeds natural springs in the Canyon.

“Groundwater pollution will wind up either flowing directly into the Canyon or contaminating the sole source of water for the Havasupai Tribe and ultimately the Colorado River,” Grand Canyon Trust Program Director Roger Clark said.

The trust joined the Sierra Club, the Center for Biological Diversity and the tribe in filing suit in March against the Forest Service in federal court in Prescott.

Energy Fuels Resources applied for its permit in 1984 and began preliminary surface work on the site two years later. Before the mine became fully operational, the company closed it because the price of uranium declined dramatically.

Now uranium’s value is back, and the company is moving to reopen, with state and federal approvals in hand.

But because the Forest Service’s blessing stems from a 1986 study, environmental groups and the Havasupai Tribe are suing to force an updated examination of potential radioactive pollution.

In its September 1986 decision approving the mine, the Forest Service said it had researched potential groundwater and spring contamination and found “that adverse impacts either during or after mining operations were extremely unlikely.”

Opponents say newer studies indicate pathways for trouble. One study, conducted in preparation for an old development plan at Tusayan, found that groundwater pumping at that Grand Canyon gateway sucked water from the vicinity of the mine. Another, by the U.S. Geological Survey, included models based on known subsurface geology funneling water toward Havasu Springs.

The Forest Service had no way of knowing these things before the 1986 approval, Northern Arizona University hydrogeologist Abe Springer said.

“Nobody ever asked the question” back then, he said.

One thing that remains unknown, Springer said, is how water from a mine might reach the aquifer, which in places is 3,000 feet deep. The uranium is in a formation known as a breccia pipe — a mineral mass deposited after ancient waters dissolved old rock. Mining companies argue that these are well-sealed from waters below.

Scientists have never placed instruments inside a breccia pipe to monitor the water flow.

“There’s never been a study,” Springer said.

The mine is north of Red Butte, one of the most prominent markers on this part of the Coconino Plateau and a site where the Havasupais say their “grandmother” hears their prayers. Tribal Vice Chairman Matthew Putesoy Sr. said it is for that reason and the fear for its water source that the tribe sued.

“It’s sacred to us, and we have been mandated by our people — and our ancestors — to protect the site,” Putesoy said.

During a “Sacred Lands Solidarity” rally outside a tribal gaming convention in downtown Phoenix on Tuesday, Navajo activist Klee Benally said the mine and its proximity to Red Butte are insults to Native American beliefs. At the rally, tribes from around the country complained of improper development, including some done by tribes themselves.

“As indigenous people in the so-called United States, we don’t have guarantees for our religious freedoms like the rest of you,” Benally said. “This is a struggle for cultural survival — the struggle to protect sacred places.”

The Forest Service continues to consult with tribes regarding sacred-site protection, but Putesoy said discussions about the Canyon Mine have not satisfied the Havasupais.

Kaibab National Forest officials declined to comment while the mine is the subject of a court challenge.

If the mine reopens, the ore will be trucked to Blanding, in southeastern Utah, for milling.

Harold Roberts, chief operating officer of Energy Fuels Resources, said he could not comment on details of the lawsuit, but “the Forest Service has performed an exhaustive review of the Canyon Mine” and the company will comply with all laws.

“In so doing,” Roberts said in an e-mail, “(the company) also is committed to utilizing best industry practices in a manner that puts the safety of its workers, its contractors, its community and the environment, as well as the principles of sustainable development, above all else.”


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