5/14 Update ~ Public Has More Time To Comment Against New Uranium Mine Proposal on Mount Taylor — Public Comment Period Extended through June 13, 2013
COMMENT DEADLINE: June 13, 2013
Acting Forest Supervisor,
Oral Comments: 505-346-3900
The deadline has been extended for public comments on a controversial new uranium mine in New Mexico. The extension is in response to requests from multiple parties who say mining operations could threaten the Mount Taylor area, a site considered holy by many Native Americans in the southwest.
The proposed Roca Honda uranium mine, located next to San Mateo Mesa, is a joint venture of Strathmore Minerals and a Japanese nuclear utility company. John Dejoia, Senior Vice President of New Mexico Operations for Strathmore Minerals says only minor disturbances such as roads and vent shafts would be located in the culturally sensitive areas of the project. But Gregg Shutiva, Governor of Acoma Pueblo, says even minor disturbances on cultural property is are considered highly offensive by members of the tribe. “Even a road,” Governor Shutiva says, “that is established by taking a grater and removing the first top foot of dirt, that may disturb cultural sites. It would be like plowing down the Vatican.”
The US Forest Service released the draft environmental impact statement for the Roca Honda Uranium mine in February. The agency is accepting public comment through June 15, 2013 extended from May 14.
Albuquerque, N.M. — More than 30 protesters gathered in front of the Cibola National Forest Supervisor’s Office in Albuquerque on Friday to demonstrate against the planned Roca Honda uranium mine near Mt. Taylor, a peak held sacred by several Native tribes.
“Mt. Taylor is very sacred to us as Zunis and to the other Pueblos and Navajos,” said Pamela Mahooty (Zuni Pueblo), who lives in Albuquerque. “Regardless of where I am, my heart belongs to my roots. Our ancestral ties are there and medicine groups gather medicines there. That land is sacred. Our medicine societies use these areas. It’s important in our life.”
Inside, U.S. Forest Service officials acknowledged the mine will have “significant” impacts on archeological sites and traditional Native activities, but said there is little their agency can do, other than attempt to mitigate the damage.
The 1872 federal mining law “says we have to allow mining to occur,” agency spokeswoman Ruth Sutton said.
As proposed, the mine would include 2,000 acres and two underground shafts, situated within and just outside of the designated Mt. Taylor Traditional Cultural Property (TCP) area. Predicted impacts noted in the Forest Service’s newly-released draft environmental impact statement for the mine include “irreparable harm” to traditional practices and archeological sites, and “a perceived impact upon the Spirit Beings associated with the Mt. Taylor TCP.”
“It is time to reclaim our rights,” Cooper Curley (Diné, Gallup, N.M.) told the protestors over a bullhorn. “These (mine) investors don’t know. What they see in life has already been set in stone in their hearts.”
The mountain is sacred to the Acoma, Laguna, Zuni, Hopi and Navajo peoples, some of whom liken its importance for Natives to that of Mt. Fuji for those who observe the traditional Japanese Shinto religion – a reference to the Japanese Sumitomo Corporation’s involvement in the proposed mine. (Sumitomo and Strathmore Minerals Corporation are funding development of the Mt. Taylor mine.)
“If Natives had the money to come to Mount Fuji and mine it, how’d they like it?” asked Joseph Ray (Laguna Pueblo).
While the government cannot halt development of the mine, one of the draft assessment’s alternatives would reduce surface disturbance by about a third, noted Forest Service Zone Geologist Diane Nowlin Tafoya of Albuquerque.
“They proposed two shafts (but) we created alternative No. 3 – a one-shaft alternative,” she noted. The assessment’s first alternative is a no-action or no-mining option that the Forest Service cannot legally select, she noted. The second of the assessment’s three alternative actions represents the mine developers’ proposal.
There are no currently-active uranium mines in New Mexico, and the nation’s only operating uranium mill is in Blanding, Utah, Tafoya said. Uranium ore from the Roca Honda mine would be trucked to Utah for milling.
Water from the mining operations would not be injected back into the aquifer, but would instead be stored onsite in a tank at the Lee Ranch for irrigation, or released into San Lucas Arroyo, Tafoya said. “Continuous” monitoring of water quality would be conducted on site by the mining company and reported to the Forest Service, she said.
But Natives participating in the demonstration outside were skeptical about such reassurances.
Joseph Ray said he was worried that springs and ground water in the area could become contaminated by mining operations.
“We have a uranium legacy in Laguna,” Ray said. “The world’s largest open-pit uranium mine. We’ve had a history of health problems and death (from the mine). My dad would come home from the mine covered in dust. That’s the legacy we have, and the Navajo people have the same health legacy from uranium mining.”
“The root problem is greed,” said Anna Rondon (Diné, Chichiltah Chapter, N.M.). “Nothing’s sacred anymore. The special interests have bought the politicians. It’s organized crime.”
The proposed mine will “desecrate our sacred mountain,” Rondon said.
Due to high demand, the Forest Service will reopen the public comment period for the mine project, to extend from May 14 to June 13.
For more information on submitting public comment, contact Forest Service Zone Geologist Diane Nowlin Tafoya at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (505) 346-3809.
This article has been updated to clarify that the proposed mine water storage tank would be located on Lee Ranch, not at the mine site, as was stated in an earlier version of this story.
5/12 Update: Friday’s demonstration at the U.S. Forest Service office in Albuquerque was a huge success. According to Sayrah Namaste with (un)Occupy Albuquerque, “That was an amazing turnout today at the Forest Service demo against uranium mining on Mt. Taylor!”
“Thank you to MASE, Native American Voter Alliance, Grants NM Idle No More, members of the Laguna Pueblo, Students for Justice in Palestine, Free Leonard Peltier Movement, and so many others who were there to show our public opposition! Stay tuned for the next protest on June 25th in Santa Fe!” said Sayrah with (un)Occupy ABQ.
In solidarity with the Multicultural Alliance for a Safe Environment (MASE) and Indigenous Action Media, activists with (un)Occupy Albuquerque are mobilizing to tell the U.S. Forest Service to stop new uranium mining in New Mexico! Japanese and Canadian companies are applying to open the first uranium mine in NM in 30 years, located on the indigenous sacred site of Mt. Taylor, near the town of Grants. This mine (called Roca Honda) would poison scarce water resources, even as there is no way to safely dispose of the waste it will produce and we’re still trying to clean up the legacy waste of earlier uranium mining.
(un)Occupy Albuquerque is calling on the community to speak out against the proposed uranium mine on Mt. Taylor. On Friday, May 10th at 4 pm, they held a demonstration at the Albuquerque office of the U.S. Forest Service, located at 2113 Osuna NE, west of Jefferson. They are also aiming to reach at least one hundred public comments in opposition to the Roca Honda min. The deadline for submitting public comments on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for the Roca Honda is Thursday, June 13.
COMMENT DEADLINE: June 13, 2013
Acting Forest Supervisor,
Oral Comments: 505-346-3900
Aside from the environmental impacts of the Roca Honda mine, MASE is very concerned with protecting a Native American sacred site, Mt. Taylor, on which the mine is being proposed. Please join us and support our efforts to stop this mine by sending in letters and comments to the Forest Service urging them to deny the Roca Honda Mine’s Plan of Operations. Courtesy of Indigenous Action Media, talking points are provided below, but please feel free to elaborate on those points and make additional comments. Please also read Tips on Preparing Comments.
.We oppose Roca Honda for the following reasons:
- Roca Honda will waste New Mexico’s water. Roca Honda is proposing to pump and use millions of water a day to operate the mine. This water will be pumped from the underground aquifer that our communities will rely on in the future. Treated groundwater that could be used by the public in the future, will be given to a nearby private landowner.
- Mt. Taylor is a sacred site that needs to be protected. Many people, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous, recognize the cultural value of Mt. Taylor. Mt Taylor is a place of great spiritual significance. It is central to oral history stories and ceremonies, and it plays a vital role in cosmology and religious practices. Shrines, pilgrimage trails, traditional medicines, and springs are all at risk of being destroyed by new mining. Mining on Mt Taylor jeopardizes the spiritual harmony and balance of our communities. Historical and cultural impacts need to be analyzed under the protection of the National Historic Preservation Act and NEPA.
- There is no mill to process the uranium. Roca Honda proposes to open their mining operation with no plan on what to do with the uranium once it is mined. There is only one operating mill in the United States, which is not taking any additional ore to process.
- There is no repository for uranium waste. The fact that there is nowhere to take and store the waste is a critical problem. It is irresponsible and dangerous to begin mining when there is no answer for waste disposal. Extra: This short video depicts uranium mine dumps in Poison Canyon, near the intersection of Hwy. 605 and Co. Rd. 23, NW of Grants, New Mexico, and shows examples of the radioactive minerals and their effect on a gamma-sensitive scintillation detector.
- Radioactive waste and by-products would be transported through our communities. Roca Honda would transport radioactive and hazardous materials through our communities. Local law enforcement and public health entities are not prepared to handle accidents during transport. Communities would bear the brunt of responding to emergency situations and living with the aftermath. The DEIS does not identify a mill site, the transportation route, or communities along the way.
- There is no “new technology” when it comes to uranium mining. There are two ways to mine uranium- conventional underground mines and in-situ leach mining. Both methods have been around for years and both have records of contamination. In-situ leach mining involves purposefully contaminating groundwater to mobilize uranium. Roca Honda would be a conventional underground mine, the same type of mines that New Mexico dealt with in the past.
- Cumulative impacts to nearby communities are not being considered. State and federal agencies are not taking into account other nearby mining projects and the cumulative impacts these mines would have on our health, water and other natural resources. The section on cumulative impacts lists other projects in the Grants Mining District, but doesn’t provide a map showing their location or what communities will be impacted. Extra: “Uranium – Is It A Country?” is a documentary that critically examines the footprints of nuclear energy.
- Cumulative impacts to people’s health haven’t been adequately studied. Communities in northwestern NM are already living with the contamination of the past. Families living nearby abandoned uranium mines and mills notice increased rates of cancers and other health problems. This problem has been ignored by state and federal agencies. To proceed with more mines without knowing the scope of impact to people’s health is dangerous and deadly.
- Water and a healthy community are human rights. The federal government and the state of New Mexico need to recognize the rights of people who are living in uranium impacted communities and say “NO” to the proposed Roca Honda mine.
- Uranium contamination from past mining projects remains unremediated. New Mexico is home to hundreds of abandoned uranium mines, with thousands more on the Navajo reservation. These mines leak contaminants into groundwater, release radon into the air, and contribute to health problems of residents living in contaminated communities.
- Former mine workers suffer devastating health impacts from working in uranium mines. Thousands of mine and mill workers have suffered and continue to suffer and die from working in hazardous conditions. While there have been some improvements in worker safety, there will always be risks associated with working in mines. Our communities deserve jobs without the risk.