Uranium mining resurfaces at Grand Canyon, Red Butte

Hearings to be held today in Fredonia

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. - A public hearing will be held at 6 p.m. in Fredonia to consider whether a uranium mining company will be granted air and water permits to operate three uranium mines near the Grand Canyon.

The Arizona Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) will conduct the hearing and decide whether to approve the air and water permits to let the mining operations open. Denison Mines Corp, a Canadian/South Korean company, is proposing the mine operations.

Environmentalists are concerned about possible contamination of surface waters as well as the aquifers. They are also concerned about possible air pollution as well as uses that would be incompatible with the recreation at the Grand Canyon.

Members of the Havasupai Tribe are particularly concerned because one of the proposed mines is near Red Butte, a sacred site to the tribe.

Stacey Hamburg, conservation program coordinator for the Sierra Club, is outraged that the hearing is being held in Fredonia because that is an eight-hour drive from Havasupai.

"That places a huge burden on the Havasupai Tribe and it's disrespectful," she said. "There should be hearings at Supai and Flagstaff."

Hamburg said the ADEQ has weakened the permit guidelines under Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer's administration as ADEQ has changed from individual permits to a more general permit.

"Is groundwater less important now?" she asked.

The Canyon Mine is located about 15 miles south of the Grand Canyon.

The Arizona One and Pine Nut mines are located about 10 to 20 miles outside of the North Rim. The Arizona One mine is also located about five miles from the Red Butte sacred site.

The Kaibab-Paiute Tribe has also voiced concerns about the mines.

Roger Clark, spokesman with the Grand Canyon Trust, is among several groups that oppose any uranium mining near the Grand Canyon.

Environmentalists, as well as tribal officials, have been attempting to stop any uranium mining near the Grand Canyon.

There are thousands of mining claims near the Grand Canyon, but Denison Mines Corp. is the only one with permit applications pending Uranium is used for nuclear energy, nuclear weapons and nuclear medicine.

Clark said it's sad that Denison Mining Co. is considering reopening the mine since it received federal clearance in the 1980s and received most of its state permits eight years ago. He pointed out that when federal clearance was given in the 1980s that there were no condors in the area.

"We also know more now about the polluted waters," he said in reference to the Orphan Mine that flooded into the Grand Canyon and polluted Horn Creek below the mine.

Hamburg said she is concerned about the cumulative pollution of past uranium mines and drilling.

"There are still contaminated waters throughout the west due to uranium mining," she said. "There shouldn't be any new uranium mines until that is addressed."

Congress recently passed a resolution opposing any new uranium mines near the Grand Canyon, but can only impact new claims - not past claims.

"As much as we would like to stop this mine, there is no retroaction to the resolution," Clark said. "Once there's a claim there is little that can be done to stop it."

Clark said waters throughout the Grand Canyon are contaminated due to past uranium mining and milling.

"That's why the Navajo Nation has banned uranium mining," he said.

Clark said a recent flood at Havasupai and a similar one back in 1984 show that uranium can be washed into the watershed. The 1984 flooding from a uranium mine led to the contamination of Hack Canyon.

"A dramatic downpour increases the risk of groundwater being contaminated," he said.

Clark said uranium mines create an industrial site that creates dust, radon, gas and diesel from the trucking related to the business. He said it would also cause more traffic congestion. He added that the power lines and roads going to the uranium mines would displace native vegetation and wildlife.

"We're risking a national treasure in order to allow a foreign company to mine and mill uranium," he said. "This has nothing to do with national security."

Clark said Arizona Public Service officials have said they don't need uranium from the Grand Canyon in order to operate their nuclear power plants.

"This is for short-term gains by foreign investors," he said.

Clark noted that water districts in California and Nevada have expressed concerns about the level of contamination in the Little Colorado River.

Hamburg said the Havasupai are planning a gathering at Red Butte Saturday and Sunday.

Those interested can submit comments to ADEQ at tb4@azdeq.gov or mail the comments to ADEQ, Trevor Baggier, 1110 W. Washington, Suite 3415A-1, Phoenix, AZ, 85007.

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