Mohave County gains ground in uranium mining case

District Court Judge ruled Mohave County can’t be denied in federal case

County has gained ground in challenging the Obama Administration’s closure of one million acres of uranium-rich lands in northern Mohave County

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Posted: Friday, January 11, 2013 12:01 am

By JAYNE HANSON Today’s News-Herald

It was decided in federal court Tuesday that Mohave County can’t be dismissed by the U.S. government when it comes to uranium mining and its peripheral revenues.

The measure means the county has gained ground in challenging the Obama Administration’s closure of one million acres of uranium-rich lands in northern Mohave County.

“It means we have legal standing,” said Mohave County Supervisor Buster Johnson, R-Dist. 3, on Thursday. “We have the right to and a duty to protect the citizens and the environment.”

The 47-page Arizona District Court ruling by U.S. District Judge David G. Campbell included Mohave County, as a member of Arizona-Utah Local Economic Coalition, as in good standing with its claims that U.S. Department of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar’s decision to close the lands to future uranium mining mine claims or exploratory efforts could cost the county tens of millions of dollars of lost revenue. Furthermore, the county claimed the closures could lead to other environmentally harmful types of energy generation, such as coal-fired plants that could be detrimental to desert tortoise habitats; and future inability to pave 1,277 miles of roads. Judge Campbell agreed on all counts.

The Coalition also claimed procedural injury alleging Salazar pushed the closure before completion of environmental impact studies were completed, and without inclusion of key communities being included in the study. Again, Judge Campbell deemed the accusations legitimate.

Tuesday, the ruling for Mohave County was among four others. The cases were combined by the Arizona District Court and included a uranium prospector, two mining associations, and large mining company Quaterra Alaska Inc. Mohave County’s claims were packaged with Quaterra’s. All of those consolidated challenged Salazar.

Among the claimants — all of whose filings were dismissed by the U.S. government — was a collective 2,300 mining sites at stake and roughly $23 million dollars spent on mining operations and explorations since about 2004, according to court documents.

For Mohave County, projected impacts are estimated $29 billion lost in local revenues over 42 years; and the loss of 1,000 new, higher-paying jobs in the Arizona Strip area during that time.

BACKGROUND

Salazar announced a six-month emergency withdrawal June 2011 that extended a two-year U.S. Bureau of Land Management environmental impact study that influenced the prohibition. The emergency withdrawal was an extension of an existing two-year temporary segregation implemented July 2009 — also at the discretion of Salazar.

Mohave County Board of Supervisors approved and allocated $35,000 to fund a coalition in order to seek legal counsel pertaining to the BLM study.

The Arizona-Utah Local Economic Coalition soon thereafter hosted a hearing in St. George, Utah, to unearth concerns about issues surrounding uranium mining. The coalition believed the study wasn’t completed in accordance with federal laws.

According to earlier reports, issues surrounding uranium mining include job creation, large-scale revenues to counties and cities in the immediate area of the lands, and the revival of several small and struggling towns in northern Mohave County.

During the power-struggle, the opposition hinged arguments on negative environmental and heritage impacts and noise pollution.

Environmental studies determined the mining efforts have low impact on underground water aquifers, the Colorado River and areas immediately surrounding operations.

You may contact the reporter at jhanson@havasunews.com.

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