The Fredonia Schools Media Center was packed with concerned community members last Wednesday when Bureau of Land Management (BLM) held a meeting as part of the public comment period, regarding the proposed uranium mining withdrawal in Arizona.  BLM representatives and geologists were on hand to present and discuss the findings of their two-year environmental impact study.

In July 2009, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar proposed a 20-year mining withdrawal, which would encompass more than one million acres north and south of the Grand Canyon.  The Secretary proposed the withdrawal “to protect natural, cultural and social resources in the Grand Canyon watershed.” 

Salazar secured a two-year withdrawal in order to conduct an environmental impact study with regards to the 20-year proposal, and commissioned the BLM to conduct the study. As the lead agency, BLM worked in cooperation with U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Geological Survey, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service, Arizona Fish and Game, as well as other local and state agencies. The Hualapai Tribe, Kaibab Band of Paiute Indians, Pueblo of Zuni, Navajo Tribe, Havasupai Tribe, Hopi Tribe and Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah were also closely consulted in the study.

According to Chris Horyza, planning and project manager, the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) must be based on the best available science and must be objective. After completion of the EIS, Horyza proposed four withdrawal alternatives, which were presented at the meeting.

The first alternative is no withdrawal. Researchers speculate this would allow approximately 30 mines over the next 20-year period.

The second alternative is the originally proposed 1,010,776 acre withdrawal. The withdrawal is subject to valid existing rights, and would allow approximately 11 mines in the next 20 years on claims already developed.

The third alternative would be to withdraw 652,986 acres, allowing approximately 18 mines.

And the fourth would be to withdraw 300,681 acres, allowing approximately 26 mines.

It is important to note on the map none of the alternatives, including the no withdrawal, allow for mining in the Grand Canyon.

Archaeologists, hydrologists, wildlife biologists and other specialists were brought together to determine the last two alternatives. If they believed two or more high value resources would be affected by mining in a certain area, that area was included in the proposed withdrawal.

Specialists present discussed their findings, but were unable to express their opinions regarding whether they agreed or disagreed with the proposed withdrawal.

As stated, the meeting was part of the public comment period for the EIS, which ends April 4, 2011. BLM is seeking public comment, however, it requests comments be as specific as possible and must be substantive to warrant a response. According to Horyza, a substantive comment must do one or more of the following:

“Question, with reasonable basis, the accuracy of information.”

“Question, with reasonable basis, the adequacy of, the methodology for, or assumptions used for the environmental analysis.” 

“Present valid new information relevant to the analysis.”

“Present reasonable alternatives other than those analyzed in the DEIS.”

“Cause changes or revisions in one or more of the alternatives.”

Comments that do not meet these requirements will not receive a response in the EIS. This includes opinion and preference comments. Those unsubstantive comments, however, will be documented and presented to Secretary Salazar to assist in his decision-making regarding the withdrawal.

Community members are encouraged to review the EIS available at the Fredonia Library and Fredonia Town Office or online at http://www.blm.gov/az/st/en/prog/mining/timeout.html

Public comments can be submitted to NAZproposedwithdrawal@azblm.org by April 4, 2011.