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3:39 AM Tue, Feb. 19th

Two-year hold placed on county uranium mining

KINGMAN - Mining in certain areas of the Arizona Strip may be on hold for two years while the federal government completes an impact study of the area and determines if it should withdraw the area from mining for the next 20 years.

The study area includes approximately 633,547 acres managed by BLM north of the Grand Canyon and 360,000 acres of U.S. Forest Service land south of the canyon.

"A good part of the BLM land, about a half to two-thirds of it is in Mohave County," said Scott Florence, BLM Arizona Strip district manager.

There are three areas where mining actually took place in the Arizona Strip area, he said. One of those mines is almost tapped out and the owners of the other two mines are looking at reopening those mines.

Several areas around the Grand Canyon, especially in the Arizona Strip, are known for high-grade deposits of uranium, he said. The price of uranium has increased over the past two years and a number of mining companies have expressed interest in reopening or exploring for the mineral.

That increased interest drew the attention of several environmental groups, which filed a lawsuit in March 2008 to stop the exploration and mining.

Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar placed the moratorium on new mining claims in the area in late July.

The moratorium does not prevent companies with existing mining claims in the area from exploring or mining, Florence said.

The BLM and the Department of the Interior cannot permanently close off the area to mining, he said. Only Congress can do that. There is currently a bill working its way through Congress that may do that.

As part of the environmental impact study, the BLM is gathering comments from the public, tribes and other stakeholders. Public scoping meetings on the issue are scheduled for Sept. 30 in Fredonia and Oct. 15 in Flagstaff. Comments may be mailed to Bureau of Land Management, Arizona Strip District, 345 East Riverside Drive, St. George, UT 84790 or by e-mail to azasminerals@blm.gov.

More information on the subject can be found at www.blm.gov/az or by calling (435) 688-3200.