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Sat, Sept. 21

TO MINE OR NOT TO MINE?

The Kaibab National Forest is seeking initial public comments by Nov. 2 about its plan to allow exploratory drilling for uranium near the Grand Canyon National Park.

Three environmental groups sued the Forest Service after it used a "categorical exclusion" to approve the drilling without any environmental analysis.

The Forest Service signed a settlement agreement last month with the plaintiffs that says it will conduct a full-scale environmental study before approving the drilling.

"Public lands abutting the Grand Canyon deserve better than the uranium industry's vision of a radioactive industrial zone," Taylor McKinnon, public lands director for the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a press release about the settlement.

"Uranium development poses a real and immediate threat to Grand Canyon and the Colorado River," added Sandy Bahr of the Sierra Club.

The Grand Canyon Trust also was part of the lawsuit against the Forest Service and mining company.

Other companies also are seeking to drill for uranium at hundreds of sites near the Grand Canyon after a spike in prices.

The issue prompted Congressman Raul Grijalva to introduce legislation that would prohibit new uranium exploration across a million acres of federal lands in watersheds surrounding the Grand Canyon.

Vane Minerals of Great Britain wants to drill more than two dozen exploratory holes on the Kaibab Forest, some within three miles of the national park.

People can offer initial ideas about potential environmental issues related to the Vane application by sending e-mails to comments-southwestern-kaibab@fs.fed.us. They also can send a fax to 928-635-8208. They should include the words "Vane Minerals Uranium Exploratory Drilling Project."

The Forest Service will accept more public comments when it publishes its draft environmental impact statement.

More information is available on the Kaibab's website at www.fs.fed.us/r3/kai, and on the websites of the plaintiffs.

The Forest Service noted that the company has a legal right under the federal 1872 Mining Law to drill for minerals in the area.

That law does not allow the government to reject mining on public lands unless it specifically closes them to mining.

Contact the reporter at jdodder@prescottaz.com

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