By Miriam Wasser for The Phoenix New Times
A U.S. District Judge has ruled that the uranium mining company, Energy Fuels Inc., can resume operations at Canyon Mine in Northern Arizona.
The decision comes after environmental groups and the Havasupai tribe filed a lawsuit in March 2013 to stop the company from completing construction of the mine and extracting uranium.
Canyon Mine is in Kaibab National Forest, six miles from the South Rim of the Grand Canyon and four miles from Red Butte, a designated “Traditional Cultural Property.” Red Butte, and the area around it – including the meadow under which Canyon Mine sits – is sacred land to many Southwest tribes.
Uranium mining always is controversial, but the location of Canyon Mine – not only its proximity to the Grand Canyon but the potential opponents say it has to poison ground water that feeds directly into the Colorado River and sustain the greater Grand Canyon ecosystem – makes it extra controversial.
Environmental groups have fought uranium mining in the region for decades, often teaming up with the Havasupai and other tribes. This particular lawsuit, Grand Canyon Trust v. Williams, is part of a long battle between those groups and mining companies, and has its origins in decisions made more than 30 years ago.
Sandy Bahr of the Sierra Club told New Times that while the judge’s decision “discouraging and disappointing, it’s not precedent-setting and that issue isn’t dead because there are additional avenues to pursue.” The plaintiff’s have 60 days to file an appeal.
As for the future, surface development at Canyon Mine is almost complete, and the company plans to relocate the 40-50 employees currently working at Pinenut Mine – a different and almost depleted uranium mine in Arizona – to Canyon Mine sometime late this summer, and then begin extracting ore.
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