Mohave County, company may team up on Arizona Strip mining ban

A Canadian mining company is asking for the Board of Supervisors' help in filing a lawsuit against the federal government's withdrawal from hard-rock mining of more than 1 million acres of land surrounding the Grand Canyon National Park.

The issue will be discussed at the Board's meeting at 9:30 a.m. Monday at the County Administration Building, 700 W. Beale St.

According to information given to the Board, Board Chairman Buster Johnson received a letter from an attorney with Quaterra Alaska, a subsidiary of Vancouver-based Quaterra Resources, Inc., stating it was considering a lawsuit against the federal government for the withdrawal of the land. The company says it has more than 3,000 mining claims north of the canyon that are affected by the federal government's ruling.

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

Quaterra hopes the county will partner with them in a lawsuit so it could argue not only economic damages but also that BLM didn't follow the federal government's National Environmental Policy Act.

Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced the ban on mining in the area in January. The federal government first started looking at the idea in 2009.

The Interior Department and proponents of the ban say any claims about job losses are false. Any company that already has an existing mining claim in the area that was approved before the ban was put into place will be able to mine. The department would only close the land to new claims that would result in job growth.

According to a BLM estimate, if the ban is put in place, 11 mines could operate over the next 20 years and produce 11,000 tons of uranium.

Proponents of the ban say it will protect tourism, the natural beauty of the canyon, cultural resources and a significant source of drinking water, the Colorado River.

About one-half to two-thirds of the acreage is in the northern half of Mohave County, the Arizona Strip.

Several bills to stop withdrawal were introduced and failed in Congress.

Johnson has been an outspoken opponent of the BLM removing the land from all new mining claims for the next 20 years. He has attended several Congressional meetings and the Board sent a letter in opposition to the ban to the federal government last year.