Mt. Taylor Faces ‘Permanent and Severe’ Adverse Cultural Impacts
By Klee Benally @eelk
Draft Environmental Impact Statement Reveals Forest Service Plan to ‘Deviate’ from Existing Laws
GALLUP, NM — The Cibola National Forest Service (CNFS) has issued a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for a mine proposed on Mt. Taylor that will violate the existing Forest Management Plan.
Instead of upholding their current standards regard to historic and cultural properties, CNFS is planning to “deviate” from them to allow desecration of Mt. Taylor with a “Project-Specific Forest Plan Amendment.”
The uranium mine is proposed by Roca Honda Resources (RHR) and threatens Mt. Taylor, which is located near Grants, NM and held holy by many Indigenous Nations in the Southwest, including Dine’, Hopi, Acoma, Laguna, and Zuni.
RHR is a partnership of Strathmore Minerals (Canada) and Sumitomo (Japan). RHR’s proposal is for one of the largest proposed uranium mines in the United States in over thirty years. Strathmore estimates that annual uranium production would be 2.6 million pounds a year.
The Draft Environmental Impact Statement states that uranium mining at Mt. Taylor, “…would result in the disruption, alteration, and displacement of traditional cultural activities that are critical to the continuity of cultural beliefs and practices of these tribes.”
Mt. Taylor has been permanently listed as a Traditional Cultural Property (TCP). When Strathmore representatives were questioned about the TCP, Juan Velasquez, vice president of Government, environmental, & regulatory affairs, stated that the TCP was merely “an attempt to prevent any uranium mining.”
“Either of the action alternatives would have an adverse affect on this historic property because it would alter the characteristics of the property that qualify it for inclusion in the NRHP in a manner that would diminish the property’s integrity of relationship, condition, and setting. These effects…would be permanent and severe.” Page 352
“The spiritual well-being of the mountain, and the spiritual relationship between the people and the Spiritual Beings of the mountain, would be impacted by the changes to the ecosystem, and it is unknown if those impacts can be repaired. It could result in a permanent impact.” Page 354
The Forest Service is considering three proposed alternatives in the DEIS, “Alternative One” is the “No Action Alternative” which means no new uranium mine, “Alternative Two” is the full proposal for RHR development, and “Alternative Three” is a scaled down version of the planned mine.
PROJECT-SPECIFIC FOREST PLAN AMENDMENT
According to the DEIS, “…the Forest Service would approve a project-specific forest plan amendment to allow the Roca Honda project to deviate from the forest plan standards of management with regard to historic properties…The amendment would allow impacts to historic properties resulting from this project, in accordance with normally applicable law…”
The current Forest Service management plan standards state that historic properties, “will be managed during the conduct of undertakings to achieve a “no wffect” [sic] finding in consultation with the SHPO and the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation.” (USFS, 1985:63) The DEIS states that “Standard No. 5 addresses instances where resource management conflicts occur. It gives a list of conditions under which ‘preservation of cultural resources in place will be the preferred option.'”
The DEIS reveals that these conditions include:
“Where the cultural values derive primarily from qualities other than research potential, and where those values are fully realized only when the cultural remains exist undisturbed in their original context(s) (e.g., association with significant historical persons or events, special ethnic or religious values, or unique interpretive values). (USFS, 1985:63)” (from the DEIS, pages 354-355)
CNFS reveals no clear meaningful mitigation measures to address cultural impacts, instead they propose a “programmatic agreement” that would establish an ongoing working relationship with impacted Indigenous Nations.
“In compliance with Section 106 of the NHPA, the Forest Service would develop a programmatic agreement in consultation with the ACHP and the consulting parties. This programmatic agreement would define measures to be implemented to avoid, minimize, and mitigate adverse effects to historic properties, and to address impacts to other cultural resources and practices. While the adverse effects would remain, the mitigation measures would resolve these effects per 36 CFR Part 800. However, the impact to cultural resources overall and traditional cultural practices would remain significant.”
The only mitigation measures in the DEIS are stated as “examples that could be considered…”The DEIS establishes these examples:
- Conducting data recovery excavations of archaeological sites;
- Conducting research on various topics with regard to relevant cultural resource issues;
- Implementing specific practices during construction and operations activities to control erosion and changes to erosion patterns;
- Training of RHR construction, operations, and reclamation personnel and contractors to recognize when archaeological resources or human remains have been discovered, to recognize when inadvertent damage has occurred to a resource, to halt ground-disturbing activities in the vicinity of the discovery, and to notify appropriate personnel; and
- Educating RHR personnel and contractors on the importance of cultural resources, the laws and regulations protecting cultural resources, the need to stay within defined work zones, and the legal implications of vandalism and looting.
Page 354 of the DEIS reveals that, “…the operation of the mine and the dewatering associated with it would result in depletion of the aquifers, transfer of water from one basin to another, and contamination of water. These changes are seen to result in impacts to the water supply that the tribes depend on for religious and subsistence uses.”
The DEIS further states:
“During construction of the Roca Honda Mine, the shafts would pass through two aquifers that contain sufficient groundwater to require some degree of dewatering: the Gallup and Dakota sandstones. During operations, dewatering would be done in the unit being mined, the Westwater Canyon Member of the Morrison Formation. Over the life of the mine, an estimated 1,192 acre-feet [AF] of groundwater would be pumped from the Gallup aquifer, 232 AF from the Dakota aquifer, and 79,037 AF from the Westwater aquifer.” Page 353
“Traditional cultural practices would be affected due to physical disturbance of the cultural and natural resources in the project area during construction, operation, and reclamation. Impacts to practices would also occur from extraction of ore, dewatering, and the surface activities being conducted. These overall impacts would be significant, and either action alternative would result in an adverse effect to historic properties.” Page 358
ELEMENTS OF THE ROCA HONDA RESOURCES (RHR) PROPOSAL
- RHR proposes a mine permit area of 1,968 acres including 48 acres of haul roads, utility corridor and mine dewater discharge pipeline corridor.
- An estimated width of 20 feet was assumed to be disturbed during the placement of the pipeline over a distance of 28,919 feet (5.48 linear miles), Page 34 DEIS
- RHR proposes to mine ore that is located at approximately 1,650 to 2,650 feet below the ground surface.
- RHR proposes to conduct mining operations for a period of approximately 18–19 years.
The DEIS states, “However, the ultimate mine life of the Roca Honda Mine would depend on uranium market conditions and potential identification of additional uranium ore. Therefore, the ultimate mine life could well exceed 18–19 years.”
The DEIS prematurely addresses potential litigation issues by citing precedence in the San Francisco Peaks case:
“The Religious Freedom Restoration Act is often cited as a protection for religious and sacred sites. The act, passed in 1993, states that government shall not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion, even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability…The act limits the Federal government’s ability to impose a substantial burden on the free exercise of religion. To substantially burden the free exercise of religion, there must be government coercion to act contrary to religious beliefs under the threat of civil or criminal sanction, or a condition on receipt of a government benefit on conduct that would violate religious beliefs (Navajo Nation v. USFS, 535 F.3d 1058, 9th Cir. 2008). Such conditions do not exist in this project.”
According to CNFS the Final Environmental Impact Statement is anticipated to be released at the end of 2013.
PUBLIC COMMENT DEADLINE MAY 14, 2013:
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The Roca Honda DEIS can be viewed at the link below:
More info: www.masecoalition.org