Category Archives: Colorado River

5/15/2011 AZ Daily Sun: Uranium report ripped by Coconino County board

Uranium report ripped by Coconino County board by CYNDY COLE Sun Staff Reporter azdailysun.com | Posted: Sunday, May 15, 2011 5:20 am: Local conservation groups and the Coconino County Board of Supervisors have found what they call “serious” flaws in a federal analysis weighing the risks and benefits of uranium mining here. The Coconino County Board of Supervisors, Sierra Club, Center for Biological Diversity, Grand Canyon Wildlands Council and Grand Canyon Trust are all questioning estimates that mining in northern Arizona could employ hundreds directly and thousands indirectly — saying those figures appear greatly inflated. These groups all support putting federal land bordering the Grand Canyon off-limits to new uranium mines for 20 years. It’s a scenario that would allow perhaps 11 existing mines to open instead of 30 and end new exploration rather than permitting more than 700 sites to be explored.

These questions have growing significance this summer because a 2-year-old moratorium on new uranium mining issued by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar expires in mid-July, opening the door for mining exploration to resume across about 1 million acres.

An Interior spokeswoman said she did not know when Salazar might make a decision on the issue.

GROUNDWATER HARD TO TRACK

“The problem with this area is that there are more unknowns than knowns — especially north of the canyon, there is a huge area where the science has not been done to determine how groundwater is moving,” said Alicyn Gitlin, of the Sierra Club.

She raised the example of the drinking water for the Grand Canyon, which is supplied by a spring on the northern side of the canyon.

When snow melts on the North Rim most years, the water quality in the springs gets cloudy, raising an evident connection between events on the surface and water quality.

Estimates of how much uranium ore could come from each mine appear to be overstated by a factor of four in the long analysis (about the size of three Flagstaff phone books), said one consultant.

Projections on how much the ore could be worth into the future appear volatile, and determining who benefits from the industry is problematic, economic development consultant Richard Merritt wrote to the Interior Department on behalf of the Grand Canyon Trust.

“… inaccuracies in modeling the economic impact of the withdrawal … cause us to seriously question the veracity of the final conclusions …” Merritt wrote.

Federal agencies didn’t adequately weigh the risks of lasting aquifer contamination related to uranium mining, the four conservation groups wrote.

“(The analysis) avoids discussion of the monumental tasks and hundreds of millions or billions of dollars required to clean up deep aquifer contamination, assuming it is even possible. Commenting organizations raised this issue in scoping. Neither the federal government nor industry can guarantee that uranium mining would not deplete or contaminate aquifers,” they stated.

They raised other uranium-mining-related contamination in the Southwest, and drew a comparison to the Gulf oil spill.

“In their permitting of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil drilling, Interior Department agencies repeatedly dismissed the possibility of a deepwater oil spill and assumed that response resources and systems were adequate to prevent significant environmental harm in the event that a spill did occur,” they wrote.

DOMESTIC USE NOT GUARANTEED

The Coconino County Board of Supervisors unanimously signed a letter in April asking that a lot of federal land in Coconino County be put off-limits to uranium mining, raising concerns about the impacts to tourism and questions about cleanup in case of an ore truck overturning.

The county cited “hot spots” of radioactivity at former mines, as uncovered in tests by the U.S. Geological Survey a few years ago, and a mine on standby for more than 20 years that had not been closed.

The board contended that uranium jobs were possibly counted multiple times, but that tourism revenues might be undercounted, and raised complaints that monitoring for radioactive materials along haul routes into Fredonia, Flagstaff, Page and Cameron wouldn’t be adequate.

The agency noted that it might feel somewhat differently about the risks if there was a guarantee that the uranium mined from the Colorado Plateau were to end up supplying power in the United States, but there is no such guarantee.

“There is entirely too much risk, too many unknowns and too many identified impacts to justify threatening one of the most important U.S. landmarks and one of the most world-renowned national parks to justify the relatively small economic benefit associated with mining of uranium in the Grand Canyon region,” the supervisors stated.

5/13/2011 Gallup Independent: Dangerous playground: Abandoned uranium mill was favorite spot

Dangerous playground: Abandoned uranium mill was favorite spot By Kathy Helms, Dine Bureau, Gallup Independent 5/13/2011 CAMERON – From the time he was 4 or 5 years old, Larry Gordy used to follow his dad on horseback across the multicolored landscape of the Painted Desert in Cameron. Eventually he started riding off on his own, seeking adventure amid the sandstone and mudstone hills while herding sheep and cattle. He was maybe 6 years old when he first encountered a rather nondescript concrete building out in the middle of nowhere. But gazing at it through the wonderment of youth, Gordy’s imagination ran wild. “I was born and raised without a permanent structure. We lived in a shack. To find a permanent structure, you were like, ‘Wow! Concrete!’ It was a favorite play place. When you’re 6 or 7 years old, that’s a fort.” It was worth riding his horse 8 miles to play all day on what he later learned was an abandoned uranium mill where ore was “concentrated,” or enriched.

“From being raised living in a shack and being covered by the Bennett Freeze where we couldn’t put anything down permanent, you saw a permanent structure way out here in the boonies and you’re hanging around it, you’re crawling on it, you’re climbing on it, and you’re looking at it – maybe you could just live out here in this permanent structure. You don’t know that it’s got radiation in it and it’s got uranium tailings in it,” he said.

The mill, which began operations in the mid-1950s, went unnoticed until last year when Gordy made mention of it to the grassroots group, Forgotten People. Together they brought it and other sites to the attention of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Division of Superfund.

U.S. EPA and Navajo Nation EPA will conduct a meeting at 10 a.m. Saturday at Moenkopi Legacy Inn & Suites in Tuba City to reveal their findings on the Cameron mill and the Hosteen Nez abandoned uranium mine site in Coalmine Chapter. They also will discuss their efforts to address abandoned uranium mines and safe drinking water in Western Navajo Agency.

Gordy, now 42, said his dad first told him about the mill. “Back in these rocks you’ll see a bunch of makeshift camp sites,” he said during a recent tour. “They were all the campsites for the Navajo people that worked here. From what my mom and dad told me, this was a real Sodom and Gomorrah out here. There was people making money, 24-hour parties. But everybody left just as fast as they showed up.”

Weston Solutions Inc. was contracted by EPA to do a site screen of the mill, located on state of Arizona land bordering the Navajo Nation. Radiation levels ranged from around 50,000 counts per minute for the bare cement foundation to 1 million counts per minute from the small dirt piles atop the foundation, compared to the average background reading of less than 16,000. The Little Colorado River Basin runs through the eastern edge of the mill site.

“Years ago, I’d come out here in the summertime and it would be like 100 degrees. You’re riding your horse down the river and you say, ‘Hey, I’m going to go over to this fort over here and hang out a little bit,” Gordy said. “You’d wrap your rope around some of these structures out here, and you’d go into this cave-looking thing” inside the mill. “It was really cool, and you’d sleep in here and take an evening nap. It was so awesome.”

The “cave” is a portion of the 100 foot-by-50 foot mill that is still intact. It has a square hole in the ceiling and a vehicle license plate from the 1950s cemented into the wall.

“When you ride around out here, you carry your lariat all the time. You come out here and you’ve got that little hole in the concrete with maybe a 20 foot drop. We used to anchor the rope to the horse and crawl in and out of that hole or pull people out, pretending we were doing a rescue,” Gordy said.

Sometimes he and his cousins would ride out together and tie off their horses to a piece of rebar sticking out of the concrete. They’d take a run a go and jump into the blown sand piles in front of the building or lead their horses up and down the chute, which still today is lined with highly radioactive waste.

About a quarter to a half mile away from the mill there’s one of many Western Nuclear Inc. markers and as Gordy said, “probably 20 or 30 core markers sticking out of the ground that are halfway rotted. From what I understand these were drilled test holes. They ran around all over the place drilling holes.” The markers have metal plates with numbers on them. “They were taking readings off of each sample that they took and numbering them,” he said.

Near the wetland area, Gordy and Marsha Monestersky, program director for Forgotten People, found the remains of a campfire and an old beer can. “Over the years people have come out here to just party. How many people have passed out in these uranium tailings?” Gordy said. And then pointing to a waste pile, “You see those little white mounds over there? Those things maxed out EPA’s Geiger counter.”

Though he never worked in the uranium mines or the mill, Gordy wonders what will happen if he gets sick. He questions the 1971 cutoff date to qualify for the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act. “They left the mines open where I hung around and played in. How can they close the date on it when they’ve got uranium tailings still laying all over the place? I would think if you’re going to close the compensation dates, you would close them after you got all of the uranium sites closed and controlled. Here we are, 2011, and we’re still exposed to it.

“My mom come up with this brain tumor type of brain cancer. We don’t know where she got it – living out here possibly. The thing with living out here is, how do you separate what illnesses are coming from your environment and what illnesses are normal? With the dust blowing and everything out here, who knows what you could catch,” he said.

Doug Brugge, Ph.D., M.S., professor of Public Health and Community Medicine at Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston, reviewed three site screen reports for Forgotten People. The radiation levels for the Section 9 lease, which includes the mill, are both higher and appear to be spread out over a larger geographic area, he said.

“Mills tend to be built near water. I think the EPA report acknowledges that contamination could be moving from the site into the river. That seemed to be EPA’s primary concern in terms of exposure both to the environment and to people – the potential for contamination to get into the river,” Brugge said.

“My main question is what comes next, and is this enough evidence for EPA to do anything more, or are they going to write these off?” The mill’s close proximity to the Little Colorado River might be the strongest motivator for cleanup, he said, because the Little Colorado feeds into the Colorado River, which provides drinking water to millions of people from Arizona to California.

Monestersky said Forgotten People appreciates EPA’s prompt response in investigating the southeast Cameron uranium concentrating mill, the open pits and tailings piles, and Goldsprings mines. “Forgotten People respectfully requests the U.S. EPA do everything necessary to protect wetlands and water sources, and conduct radiation surveys beyond the borders of these sites to assess levels of contamination to downstream users on the Little Colorado River and contamination of water resources throughout the region.

“How could the U.S. EPA and other agencies miss the southeast Cameron uranium concentrating mill when they did aerial flyovers to assess contamination?” she said.

5/5/2011 Public News Service: Arizonans Call for Canyon Mining Moratorium

Public News Service: Arizonans Call for Canyon Mining Moratorium PHOENIX, Ariz. – Hundreds of thousands of Americans, including 36 Arizona groups, have weighed in to support a federal proposal for a 20-year ban on new uranium mining claims on 1 million acres near Grand Canyon National Park. A public comment period has just ended. The Obama administration is expected to decide the issue in the next few weeks. Lynn Hamilton is the executive director of Grand Canyon River Guides, a nonprofit group of professional river guides and individuals who love the Grand Canyon. She warns that runoff from existing uranium mines has already polluted several rivers, creeks and springs within the national park. “It’s really alarming for people to feel like the areas that they’re visiting and recreating in, which they consider to be wilderness areas, are tainted in this way.”

Arizona Rep. Raul Grijalva and 62 other members of Congress have sent a letter to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar urging him to approve the proposed 20-year moratorium. Several local governments and Native American tribal governments have also endorsed the proposed mining ban. The industry maintains that modern mining techniques prevent environmental damage.

Hamilton says Native Americans living in northern Arizona have been especially hard-hit by water pollution resulting from uranium mining.

“It’s really a deadly history. Many Native Americans have died from drinking tainted water or from using that water to sustain their livestock and crops when it’s contaminated.”

Hamilton also expresses concern about the potential effect on tourism from uranium mining claims that are “right on the doorstep” of the Grand Canyon.

“This is an area that draws 5 million visitors each year. It contributes almost $700 million annually to the regional economy.”

Grand Canyon tourism supports some 12,000 full-time jobs, she adds.

5/4/2011 – 306,000 Comments submitted today in support of 1-million-acre protection of the Grand Canyon

5/4/2011 – Forgotten People just learned, a total of 306,000 comments were submitted in support of Alternative B (full 1-million-acre protection), which is nothing short of historic. Great work Center for Biological Diversity, Sierra Club and the People!
Grand Canyon Uranium Mining PSA
vimeo.com
Please take action by May 4th to protect the Grand Canyon! Narrated by Craig Childs and directed by James Q Martin, this short video makes a compelling case for the Obama administration’s proposal to protect 1 million acres of public land surrounding…,

Save the Grand Canyon from uranium mining
Posted on April 30, 2011 by forgottenpeople

Uranium mining rips up huge tracts of land to extract radioactive material for use in nuclear weapons and nuclear power plants.1 For the past two years, the Grand Canyon has been protected from these ravages. But now, the temporary mining moratorium is set to expire. The Grand Canyon’s fragile ecosystem, stunning beauty, and vital water supply are threatened by 1,100 new mining claims that have been filed within five miles of this priceless “crown jewel.” The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is considering a 20-year ban on mining to protect the Grand Canyon’s entire one-million acre watershed. But there are other proposals on the table, and industry lobbyists are encouraging BLM to open the floodgates for the uranium mining rush. It’s essential that we urge the BLM to protect the Grand Canyon.

Tell the Bureau of Land Management: Ban uranium mining at the Grand Canyon. Submit a public comment now. The high price of uranium makes its extraction extremely lucrative for mining companies, but shockingly, the practice is regulated by the antiquated 1872 Mining Law which has no environmental standards to limit the devastation and radioactive damage that results to wildlife, soil, ground and surface water. In fact, the law actually makes exploitative mining a priority over all other uses of public lands. The legacy of mining in the Grand Canyon and has already wrought lasting damage to surrounding areas and tribal communities, who have banned mining on all their lands…. Read More

5/2/2011 Gallup Independent: Northeastern Arizona water rights settlement 'too expensive'

5/2/2011 Gallup Independent Northeastern Arizona water rights settlement ‘too expensive’ By Kathy Helms, Dine Bureau, Gallup Independent:   WINDOW ROCK – The proposed $800 million Northeastern Arizona Indian Water Rights Settlement Agreement approved by the Navajo Nation last November is “too expensive” and will not be introduced to Congress in its current form, according to court documents.  An April 19 report from Arizona Superior Court Special Master George A. Schade Jr., states that parties to the settlement were informed March 24 by U.S. Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., that the proposed settlement is too expensive. Navajo Nation water rights attorney Stanley Pollack stated in the report that Kyl is unwilling to introduce legislation to authorize the settlement in its current form given the current political and fiscal climate in Washington.

However, Kyl encouraged the parties to reach new settlement language by June so that he might submit legislation to Congress prior to his retirement in 2012 at the end of the current Congress. Pollack informed Schade that the parties were scheduled to meet with Kyl last week in Phoenix to discuss possible terms. Since being advised that the proposed settlement is too expensive, the negotiating parties have been meeting to revise the terms and make it less costly.

The Navajo Nation’s San Juan River water rights settlement also had an estimated price tag of $800 million.

Pollack noted that terms approved Nov. 4, 2010, by the 21st Navajo Nation Council for the Northeastern Arizona settlement are no longer up for consideration because the settlement does not have a chance for success in Congress. No action was taken by the Hopi Tribe, as the document had not gone out to the villages for consideration by the Hopi people.

Under the proposed agreement – which had grassroots Navajos marching on Window Rock in protest – the Navajo Nation would receive 31,000 acre-feet of “fourth priority” water per year, while Navajo Generating Station would receive 34,100 acre-feet per year of Upper Basin water for its continued operation.

Any new settlement terms will require approval by the 22nd Navajo Nation Council and the 32 other parties to the settlement. Pollack reported that he does not anticipate that the terms will be approved by the time federal legislation is introduced.

When contacted Friday, Pollack said he was “hamstrung” from discussing the matter by confidentiality orders, however, he did say, “The Arizona discussions are not dead.”

The settlement springs from the Little Colorado River adjudication which has been ongoing since March 14, 2003, when the Navajo Nation took legal action challenging the Secretary of the Interior’s operation of various management programs in the Lower Basin of the Colorado River. Numerous parties have since intervened, among them the state of Arizona, Central Arizona Water Conservation District, Salt River Project, Arizona Power Authority, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, and the state of Nevada.

The Navajo Nation and the United States stipulated to granting all motions to intervene and to a two-year stay of the litigation so the Interior could appoint an Indian water rights settlement team and pursue efforts to resolve the Nation’s water rights claims through negotiation and settlement.

On April 12, parties involved in the case requested a four-month extension of stay until Aug. 15 in the federal court case, the Navajo Nation v. United States Department of the Interior, et al., and U.S. District Court Judge Paul Rosenblatt granted the stay April 19. The court has repeatedly granted extensions of the original stay issued in October 2004.

Water from the Little Colorado River system could affect the magnitude of the Nation’s claim to water from the main stem Colorado River. In 2005, the parties acknowledged that resources within the Little Colorado River Basin are not sufficient to secure a permanent homeland for the Navajo people. The “Kyl Report” and other studies have reached the conclusion that there would be a need for some imported water supplies from the Colorado River.

During November’s protest in Window Rock, Jeneda Benally said the Navajo people were opposed to having their water rights “sold out underneath us, because our future generations … are going to be affected by this decision, and 31,000 acre-feet of water is not enough. We need to be able to sustain ourselves as a people, and for that we need water. Water is life.”

Many of the grassroots people also were upset that the language called for waiving all “past, present and future claims for water rights arising from time immemorial” that are based upon aboriginal occupancy. Navajo also would waive any claims for injury to water quality – another concern of residents who have been impacted by past coal and uranium mining.