Protesters decry uranium mine near Mt. Taylor

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Cooper Curley (Diné, Gallup, N.M.) speaks at a May 10 protest against the proposed Roca Honda uranium mine.

Bryant Furlow/New Mexico In Depth

Cooper Curley (Diné, Gallup, N.M.) speaks at a May 10 protest against the proposed Roca Honda uranium mine.

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 dtafoya@fs.fed.us 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.

22 thoughts on “Protesters decry uranium mine near Mt. Taylor

  1. The Martinez administration wants a resumption of uranium mining in New Mexico. Here is a presentation by Fernando Martinez, Director of the Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Division of New Mexico given at the 2012 National Nuclear Fuel Cycle Summit. Acting for the Martinez administration Mr. Martinez, approved a 5 year standby permit for the Mt. Taylor Mine in 2012.

    http://nm-carlsbadnfcs.civicplus.com/DocumentCenter/Home/View/107

    • By the way Ron. E. Hochstein President of the lobbyist group, Uranium Producers of America in Santa Fe is a Director of Energy Fuels Inc.

  2. Uranium mining in New Mexico is one of the most important issues in our state. Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration have pushed for a so-called stable regulatory environment for uranium. In fact according to the attached article, John Bemis, secretary of the state Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department, described interest in New Mexico’s uranium as “huge.” Mr. Bemis has tried to downplay the dangers of uranium by saying that it is simply “public fear and misrepresentation.” This is a bogus argument.

    http://www.durangoherald.com/article/20110517/NEWS02/705179918/-1/news&source=RSS

    http://www.dchieftain.com/2011/08/12/energy-including-uranium-suggested-as-development-strategy

    http://civicpolicy.com/interim-watch-uranium-industry-makes-big-pitch-to-resume-nm-mining-operations/

    It is clear Governor Martinez and her cohorts are working behind the scenes to bring uranium mining back to New Mexico and avoiding some real safety concerns. Mr. Bemis in the articles above clearly shows that. Again this needs to be investigated ASAP. The Navajos are not being shown any respect by the Martinez Administration.

  3. Here is an eye-opening article on uranium mining and health from the May 2013 issue of Canadian Family Physician. This publication is a peer-reviewed medical journal and is the official publication of the College of Family Physicians of Canada. The conclusion warns us: “Uranium mining has widespread effects, contaminating the environment with radioactive dust, radon gas, water-borne toxins, and increased levels of background radiation.”
    http://www.cfp.ca/content/59/5/469.full

  4. In Wyoming one uranium mine has its injection wells pump more than 200,000 gallons of toxic and radioactive waste from uranium mining into Christensen’s aquifers every day.

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/26/christensen-ranch-uranium-water-supply_n_2366333.html

    Uranium mining in New Mexico will further enhance severe water problems in the entire state. This is a major story, and New Mexico In Depth should focus on this matter as a priority. No other news publication is giving this proper coverage.

  5. Here are three excellent books on the Navajos and the ill-effects of uranium mining in the past:

    The Navajo People and Uranium Mining

    http://www.amazon.com/Navajo-People-Uranium-Mining/dp/0826337791/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1369773052&sr=1-1&keywords=navajos+uranium+mining

    If You Poison Us: Uranium and Native Americans

    http://www.amazon.com/If-You-Poison-Us-Americans/dp/1878610406/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1369773052&sr=1-2&keywords=navajos+uranium+mining

    Yellow Dirt: An American Story of a Poisoned Land and a People Betrayed
    http://www.amazon.com/Yellow-Dirt-American-Poisoned-Betrayed/dp/B004KAB3KW/ref=sr_1_fkmr0_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1369773603&sr=1-1-fkmr0&keywords=%27Yellow+Dirt%27%3A+The+Legacy+of+Navajo+Uranium+Mines

    New Mexicans should read these books before uranium mining speculators open mines.

  6. Here is a short video from 2010 on the hazards of uranium mining near Grants, New Mexico – scary.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IB_z_30wGQo

    Uranium spot prices are low today – $40.50/lb. Companies are speculating in the hope that prices will rise. In June 2007 the price was $138/lb. Its lowest price in the 21st century has been $9.60/lb. The market has a history of volatility. It was a boom and bust mentality.

  7. This is an outrageous water request. Rio Grande Resources Corp., a subsidiary of San Diego-based General Atomics, a defense contractor, applied for renewal of its 2005 standby permit for the Mount Taylor mine from the New mexico Environment Department. Joel Lister, Mine Manager, proposes to renew and modify the Discharge Permit for the discharge of up to 17,280,000 gallons per day of water from mine dewatering, stormwater, and drainage from mine stockpiles at a uranium mine.

    http://www.nmenv.state.nm.us/gwb/documents/PN1_5-15-13.pdf

  8. I wanted to let others know that there will be a second protest in front of the Forest Service offices here in Albuquerque on Friday May 31st at 4PM 2113 Osuna Rd NE
    Here is the facebook event page: https://www.facebook.com/events/129196377282793/
    Please share this with others….
    Also on June 25th in Santa Fe there will be another action regarding Strathmore Minerals Corp. Details to come….please feel free to connect with (un)Occupy Albuquerque if you have comments or questions….unoccupyabq@gmail.com
    Thanks for all your work,
    Maria B.

  9. Energy Fuels Inc. of Toronto is quietly assembling a large array of uranium mine properties in the United States including now that of New Mexico. Governor Martinez has been rather quiet about uranium mining in New Mexico.

  10. The Canadian company Powertech plans to mine uranium in Custer and Fall River County in South Dakota. According to the attached article, they will use a minimum of 4,000 to possibly 8,000 gallons of water per minute from the a nearby Aquifer. That comes to 5,760,000 to 11,520,000 gallons per day. So how much will Strathmore Minerals Corporation use in New Mexico? http://rapidcityjournal.com/news/opinion/forum-permitting-uranium-mining-begins-water-wars/article_0b178a2c-c7f4-5885-bde0-67ef5d7822eb.html

  11. The dangers of uranium mining are well-known. Here is a case study of the mishaps in uranium mining in Virginia.

    http://www.southernenvironment.org/cases/uranium_mining_in_virginia

    Here is a video on dangerous uranium mining in New Mexico and the Navajo Nation struggling with a legacy of contamination.
    http://www.democracynow.org/2012/10/11/after_decades_of_uranium_mining_navajo

    Uranium mining and milling have never been done safely and without contamination anywhere in the United States.

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