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Saturday, May 18, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Mining Firm Fights for Grand Canyon Claims

PRESCOTT, Ariz. (CN) - A Canadian mining company and county supervisors in northern Arizona claim in Federal Court that a ban on new mining claims on public land near the Grand Canyon is a scientifically suspect job-killer that violates environmental regulations.

Quaterra Alaska, a subsidiary of Vancouver-based Quaterra Resources, and the Mohave County Board of Supervisors sued the Department of Interior and Bureau of Land Management.

They seek to enjoin the Northern Arizona Withdrawal, which prohibits new uranium and other hardrock mines for 20 years on more than 1 million acres of public land north of Grand Canyon National Park.

Quaterra Resources claims it holds 1,000 mineral claims in the withdrawal area, which account for about 30 percent of the company's North American expenditures, and that it "seeks to expand its exploration activities and locate additional mining claims."

Mohave County, northwestern Arizona near the western Grand Canyon, claims the withdrawal will cost the rural area revenue and jobs. The withdrawal became official in January after more than 2 years of study and public comment.

"By ignoring both the science and the facts, defendants' actions have done nothing to protect the Grand Canyon watershed and effectively deprived plaintiff Quaterra of its investment in uranium deposits and deprived plaintiff Mohave County, Arizona and Utah communities, and the State of Arizona, of tens of millions of dollars in revenues and jobs, further inhibiting the state and local government efforts to recover from the worst economic recession in 80 years," the complaint states.

In a statement announcing the withdrawal in January, the BLM said the move would have little effect on employment in the region.

"During the withdrawal period, the BLM projects that up to 11 uranium mines, including four that are currently approved, could still be developed based on valid pre-existing rights - meaning the jobs supported by mining in the area would increase or remain flat as compared to the current level, according to the BLM's analysis," the statement said. "By comparison, during the 1980s, nine uranium mines were developed on these lands and five were mined out. Without the withdrawal, there could be 30 uranium mines in the area over the next 20 years, including the four that are currently approved, with as many as six operating at one time, the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) estimates."

Quaterra and Mohave County claim that the withdrawal violated the Federal Land Policy and Management Act and the National Environmental Policy Act because the government failed "to coordinate with Mohave County to avoid conflicts with its county plans, to make a decision based on evidence rather than political rhetoric, to resolve scientific controversies, and to adequately address the material public comments."

They also claim that science contradicts the government's contention that the withdrawal is needed to protect the Colorado River and the Grand Canyon Watershed.

"The overwhelming scientific data show that uranium mining of breccia pipe formations within the withdrawal would have no adverse impacts on the Colorado River or its watershed," the complaint states.

The plaintiffs want the Secretary of the Interior enjoined from "implementing any aspect of the Northern Arizona Withdrawal," and "a decision finding that the secretary failed to follow the criteria and procedures for a withdrawal and setting the withdrawal aside would restore the public lands to the status quo ante and allow Quaterra to proceed to develop the mineral deposits that it has lawfully claimed and worked and to locate new claims."

They are represented by William Klain, with Lang Baker, of Scottsdale.

The National Mining Association and the Nuclear Energy Institute filed a similar lawsuitagainst the Department of Interior in February, and The Northwest Mining Association, based in Spokane, Wash., challengedthe withdrawal in Federal Court in March.

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