Zombie Uranium Mine to Reopen

Canyon Mine just south of GCNP
Photo by Taylor McKinnon

Forest Service officials have dusted off a twenty-six-year-old Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the “Canyon” uranium mine and determined that no new environmental review is needed before the mothballed mine is allowed to reopen. Crews are currently enlarging a water-retention catchment for the seventeen-acre site that was prepared to begin mining operations before a drop in uranium prices caused its closure in 1992.

Located just a few miles south of the main entrance to Grand Canyon National Park, the Canyon Mine was the center of a prolonged controversy when it was originally proposed and approved. Public concerns were raised about potential harms caused by uranium mining to the region’s recreational, wildlife, and watershed uses. Tourism businesses objected to industrial development and truck traffic and conflicts with millions of Grand Canyon visitors. The Havasupai Tribe opposed the mine because it threatened to contaminate their sole source of water and to desecrate Red Butte, one of the most sacred areas within their aboriginal homeland.

In announcing his decision not to update the 1986 EIS or to allow public review of the decision, Kaibab Forest Supervisor Mike Williams “concluded that no modification or amendment to the existing Plan of Operation is necessary; that no correction, supplementation, or revision to the environmental document is required; and that operations at the Canyon Mine may continue as a result of no further federal authorization being required.”

Old-growth ponderosa pine cut for mine
Photo by Taylor McKinnon

The Trust, Havasupai Tribe, and allies disagree with the factual basis of the decision and intend to challenge it. For example, the originally approved plan did not anticipate a need to expand the water retention basin or to issue a new permit to log old-growth ponderosa pine and other trees along the 6.3-mile power line that was built to deliver electricity to the mine. Nor did the recent decision recognize any need to solicit public input regarding new

Retention pond being constructed at mine
Photo by Taylor McKinnon

scientific evidence about uranium mining risks to watersheds, designation of Red Butte as a “Traditional Cultural Property,” and re-introduction of endangered condors to the area.

In appealing our legal case against a similar federal decision, the attorney representing the Trust and co-plaintiffs argued that the Bureau of Land Management’s failure to update a 24-year-old plan of operations, allowed the mine to be closed indefinitely and, decades later, to reappear under an outdated plan and without an environmental review that includes new information and input from today’s living stakeholders. Such an interpretation ignores new regulations adopted in 2000 that were meant to prevent just that. Attorney Neil Levine said, “They are like zombies…they just keep coming up, and they could come up fifty years from now.”

For more information about the Canyon Mine and decision by the U.S. Forest Service to allow it to re-open, please click here.

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