Mohave County follows through on federal lawsuit

Battle is over the elimination of new hard-rock mining claims near the Grand Canyon

BUTCH MERRIWEATHER/Courtesy<br /><br /><!-- 1upcrlf2 -->County Supervisor Buster Johnson

BUTCH MERRIWEATHER/Courtesy<br /><br /><!-- 1upcrlf2 -->County Supervisor Buster Johnson

KINGMAN - Mohave County is making good on its threat to sue the federal government over the elimination of new hard-rock mining claims near the Grand Canyon.

Attorneys for the county and Quaterra Alaska, Inc. filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of the Interior, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, the Bureau of Land Management and BLM Director Robert Abbey Tuesday.

After studying the situation for nearly three years, the federal government announced in January that it was removing one million acres surrounding the Grand Canyon National Park from all new hard-rock mining claims, including uranium. The part of Mohave County north of the Grand Canyon - the Arizona Strip - is known for its rich uranium deposits. The owners of existing and operating mining claims on file with the federal government will still be able to mine.

The government withdrew the land from new mining claims to protect the natural beauty of the area, historical sites and water sources such as the Colorado River.

Quaterra asked the county in March if it would consider partnering with it in a lawsuit against the federal government. The company says it has invested more than $12 million, approximately 30 percent of the company's total exploration expenditures for North America, in the area.

The company also claims that the Bureau of Land Management, which was responsible for the report that led to the removal of land, did not follow federal guidelines when creating its report. The report itself contradicts the department's reasons for withdrawing the land, according to the company.

Partnering with the county in a lawsuit lets Quaterra argue that it not only suffered economic damages from the mining ban, but also that the BLM didn't follow the federal government's National Environmental Policy Act and Federal Land Policy and Management Act when it produced the report.

The lawsuit states that the government also ignored science and facts and deprived the county, as well as Arizona, of "tens of millions of dollars in revenue and jobs, further inhibiting the state and local government efforts to recover from the worst economic recession in 80 years."

Supporters of the ban say that such claims are false, and the damage to tourism jobs from uranium mining is a greater threat to the state's economy.

"It's a sorry state of affairs when this county government has to sue the federal government," said Mohave County Board of Supervisors Chair Buster Johnson. "We are using our finite resources to pay for a lawsuit to stop the feds from taking our land and our economic future.

"Salazar does not have the authority to do these things. This kind of taking of land, power and oversight from states, counties and legal investors can only be accomplished through an act of Congress," he said.

Proponents of the ban are concerned about the impact of mining on groundwater resources in the area, as well as damage to the natural beauty of the area.

Johnson claims that new uranium mining methods are much safer and more environmentally friendly than the methods used 50 years ago.

A memo from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency dated June 2, 2011 states that the department is reviewing its regulations concerning the recovery of in-situ uranium mining sites. In-situ mining is when a company bores a mine into the ground and uses compressed fluids to bring the ore to the surface, rather than open pit mining, which scrapes off the top of the soil to reach the ore.

According to the lawsuit, more than 4.36-million acres of federal land in Arizona are closed to mineral development.