Paddlers Voice Disapproval of New Mines in Northern Arizona

Mar 29, 2011
Outside Magazine

500px-Grand_Canyon_2 The Grand Canyon. Courtesy of Wikimedia

The paddling community is rallying behind a federal effort to issue a moratorium on new uranium mining claims in Northern Arizona, according to Among other organizations involved, American Whitewater is leading the charge in support of Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar's recommendation to the Bureau of Land Management that the agency grant no new claims in a one-million-acre strip of land that includes headwaters of creeks within the Colorado River drainage in the vicinity of the Grand Canyon.

The BLM released its Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) on February 18, 2011, and thus opened its 45-day public comment period on the proposed action of banning new claims in the area for the next 20 years. The DEIS proposes four alternatives, three of which ban new claims for the next two decades but differ in the amounts of land set aside, and a fourth alternative that suggests no ban, that the area remain open to new claims.

Uranium in Northern Arizona lies in geologic formations known as breccia pipes -- large (up to several hundred feet in diameter) generally cylindrical formations that were once open cavities in the bedrock where neighboring rock collapsed into the hole and was lithified as hard, angular chunks of parent rock cemented within a matrix of finer rock.

The BLM revoked eligibility of new mining claims for the land at issue in 2009, and at the same time initiated a two-year review of the impacts the development of new mines would have on the area. Conservationists, river advocates, and recreational organizations have maintained that uranium mines are too great a detriment to the environmental integrity, aesthetic quality, and recreational value of the Grand Canyon area and the tributaries of the Colorado River at stake.

The paddlers are also encouraging public input as the BLM's public comment period nears its close on April 4. As required by the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, which was arguably the first step in modern environmentalism, the BLM is mandated to not only use the best science available, explore every reasonable alternative course of action, and thoroughly investigate the impacts of those actions, but the agency is also required to accept public comments on the proposal and incorporate those comments into the agency's final decision.

To learn more, check out the Arizona Geology blog, the Northern Arizona Uranium Project, and the USGS fact sheet on breccia-pipe uranium mining in Northern Arizona.

To submit a comment to the BLM, send an email to [email protected]

--Will Grant

Filed To: Science, Nature, Paddling

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