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Uranium Cleanup is Priority for Navajos

August 16, 2012

August 16, 2012

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News & Events

The Cibola Beacon recently released the following story. Click here for the original posting.

CIBOLA COUNTY  “The Navajo Nation and many of its members have stated it loud and clear, no new uranium mining until cleanup is complete on Navajo lands.

An agreement was signed on July 19 between the Navajo Nation and Hydro Resources, Inc. (HRI), a subsidiary of Uranium Resources, Inc. (URI). The agreement stemmed from a trespass violation that occurred last October.

On Oct. 12, 2011, HRI crossed over Navajo trust land at Churchrock, Section 9 and 17, for purposes of accessing Section 8.

On April 5 the Navajo Nation Division of Natural Resources issued a violation notice to the mining company indicating they had committed a Civil Trespass and were fined $50 and were ultimately asked to sign a Temporary Access Agreement.

Section Two of the agreement states that HRI has further agreed to complete remediation of any radioactive contamination now existing on Section 17 or Section 8 (“preexisting contamination”) prior to commencing its planned in-situ leach uranium operations on Section 8.

The remediation must ultimately meet the standards of the Navajo Nation Comprehensive Response Compensation and Liability Act, which is in accordance with all state and federal laws. Furthermore, no construction activities or earth disturbance activities of any type are permitted during the temporary access agreement.

The Navajo Nation’s Deputy Attorney General and Hydro Resources President and Chief Executive Officer Donald Ewigleben signed the agreement.

“All along we have been working with the Navajo Nation,” said HRI’s Senior Vice President Mark Pelizza. “The cleanup is a legacy issue that we were not a part of. However, we have agreed to clean it up.”

Pelizza noted that HRI and the Navajo Nation are currently undergoing confidential negotiations as to the details of remediation.

A group of Navajo community members identified as ENDAUM (Eastern Navajo Diné Against Uranium Mining) was organized and has continually challenged HRI for responsible uranium mining since 1994.

The New Mexico Environmental Law Center is assisting ENDAUM to keep irresponsible uranium mining from returning to Navajo Lands, according to Leona Morgan, ENDAUM coordinator.

“Our concern is the impact on Indian Country,” explained Morgan. “We are concerned about our water, air, land and community. Understand Navajos eat cheap, so we eat from our gardens that come from our ground and water.”

Morgan said there are thousands of abandoned mines in New Mexico.

“Priority should be cleanup rather than new mining,” she said. “Officials are not looking at the true cost of cleanup… It is ridiculous to talk about new mining when there is still so much cleanup to do.”

ENDAUM has no official affiliation with the Navajo Nation. “However, we are voters and we are residents. That is our affiliation,” emphasized Morgan.

She said there is no estimated cost of the cleanup at Churchrock at this point.

“It has not been fully studied. We don’t know the cost because we don’t know what the extent is,” explained Morgan.

Erick Jantz of the Environmental Law Center said, “The residents will be engaged in the process. There will be public hearings.”

Morgan added, “The Navajo Nation doesn’t currently have cleanup regulations under its Superfund law — those regulations will have to be written. ENDAUM will be engaged in the process to ensure that the highest cleanup standards are adopted to protect the community.”

Jantz said he is skeptical of HRIs ability to cleanup at Church Rock because they are struggling to pay for cleanup at their uranium operations in Texas.

Pelizza said, “I don’t know where they got their information from, but those words are totally a foul ball. We are totally up to date and permitted in Texas. They should call the regulators and find out for themselves. All sites are bonded in cash with the state to ensure that complete restoration is done even if URI was not able to do so.”

He added, “Over the years, ENDAUM has challenged numerous times and has not been successful. There are hundreds of legacy sites in the Four Corners area. We only own one of them and are committed to cleaning it up and will continue to work with the Navajo Nation to do so.”

Editor’s Note: The Navajo Nation Diné Natural Resources Protection Act of 2005 prohibits uranium mining within Navajo Indian Country.