Flagstaff Council Commits to Stop Uranium Transport
Flagstaff, AZ — On Tuesday, October 10th 2017, Flagstaff City Council held a work session which included discussion to consider passing a resolution and ordinance to stop uranium transport through the community.
More than 75 people rallied outside the council chambers before the meeting.
“We need water, water is life.” said Odettie Jones, who is from the Havasupai Tribe, “There [are] already a lot of nuclear weapons already made. Why do they need more uranium? It’s already done. Leave it in the ground.”
Jones was part of a delegation of a dozen Havasupai Tribal members who came from the Grand Canyon to voice their opposition to Canyon Mine.
The Canyon Mine is a uranium mine located near Red Butte, a sacred mountain and Traditional Cultural Property only six miles from the Grand Canyon’s South Rim. Canadian company, Energy Fuels Inc (EFI), plans to extract uranium in 2018.
Up to 12 trucks a day with 30 tons each of high grade radioactive uranium ore are slated to be transported through mostly reservation communities. The uranium would be hauled a total of 300 miles to EFI’s controversial “White Mesa Mill” near Blanding, Utah. White Mesa Mill is located on ancestral Ute Mountain Ute lands and is the only commercial uranium processing plant operating in the US.
The Havasupai Nation has legally challenged the US Forest Service due to failure of completing meaningful consultation regarding Canyon Mine in their 1986 Environmental Impact Statement. A decision from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals could come any day.
Although the Navajo Nation has banned transport of uranium through its lands since 2012, EFI would be permitted by the state of Arizona due to jurisdictional issues.
Possible radioactive contamination to land, water, and air from the Canyon Mine, White Mesa Mill, and transport of uranium would impact northern Arizona, southeast Utah, the Colorado River, Moenkopi Wash, the San Juan River, and the lands and cultural resources of the Havasupai, Hopi, Navajo, Ute, and Paiute peoples.
“It’s going to affect every single one of us, brown people, black people, animals, the sky… knowing the government they aren’t going to contain it while it’s transported.” stated Frankie Tso, Diné resident of Cameron, “This is an act of genocide, a nuclear genocide. There are people who are dying. I just recently had a grandmother pass away because of cancer, and she [had] open sores all over her body. She lived a quarter mile away from one of the most toxic abandoned uranium mines in Cameron.” Tso continued, “We’re here to stop that, we aren’t going to try, we are going to stop that. People over profit!”
Haul No! volunteer Leilani Clark, Diné (Navajo) and Santa Clara Pueblo, spoke about how the Flagstaff City Council initially removed the discussion from the agenda. “Within 24 hours the item was back on the agenda,” Clark said, “This is because you mobilized and ensured that the City take this matter seriously. Thank you.”
Council Ready to Act, Looking to Challenge Federal Regulations
As the council session began, a group of singers stayed outside drumming and singing for support of Haul No!
Five Flagstaff City Council members immediately expressed their support for a resolution. They also called for greater action in the form of an ordinance to restrict transport through a small section of roadway that the City has jurisdiction over.
EFI representative Donn Pillmore contradicted a previous statement made by the company’s president Mark Chalmers at a previous Flagstaff council session. Chalmers had stated, “Planned routes are not expected to be through Flagstaff,” though the fact is in 1986 the Forest Service approved two routes, one through Flagstaff, and another through a Forest Service access road and private lands north of Flagstaff. The Forest Service indicated in their environmental impact statement that the route through Flagstaff was the “preferred” option.
Council members discussed a range of options from further regulating transport of uranium by having “more secure” containers other than just tarps. City staff stated that they could not pass an ordinance restricting transport due to “preemption” by Federal regulations. Council member Putzova responded by stating, “I wouldn’t mind asking the Federal government to change its regulations regarding uranium.”
Vice Mayor Jamie Whelan stated, “We have to take action, even though we seem to be powerless over this.”
Coral Evans, Mayor of Flagstaff stated, “I’m very troubled by the fact that [Indigenous] communities have the bulk of the risk when it comes to this.” Evans also stated that she had faced breast cancer twice and that it may now be genetic as a result of her mom being a downwinder.
Whelan also stated she also had faced cancer, “When the question came up about throat cancer, the surgeon first asked me, ‘How much time did you spend on the reservation?’ And that is not okay,” Whelan stated.
Ophelia Watahomigie-Corliss, Havasupai Tribal council member stated, “I implore you to move forward and challenge [Federal regulations].” She addressed the impact the uranium mining operations could have on millions of people.
Sarana Riggs, member of the Diné (Navajo) Nation and Haul No! volunteer, delivered a statement to the council that read, “We have organized a rally tonight with not only Flagstaff community present, but concerned citizens throughout the region coming, as far away as Havasupai, Tucson, Las Vegas, Gallup, and Albuquerque. Canyon Mine is only 6 miles outside the the South Rim of the Grand Canyon- one of the largest tourist destinations in the world for it’s beauty and sacredness- this will have a very drastic impact to livelihoods outside of the region- let alone the ancestral and current homelands of the Havasupai and Hualapai peoples who will feel the direct effects of uranium exposure and further desecration of Sacred Sites if this is allowed. The Colorado River water which flows through the Grand Canyon and supports life for the surrounding regions, including California and Nevada will be irreversibly destroyed.”
Haul No! representatives called on the council to address desecration of sacred sites, “As part of this process, we further urge the Council to request input from impacted Indigenous residents and neighbors about how the City can support efforts to protect important sacred and ecological sites such as Red Butte and the San Francisco Peaks.”
Benjamin Jones, of the Havasupai Natural Resources Department, stated, “The Canyon Mine is located on a Traditional Cultural Property of the Havasupai, our sacred mountain Red Butte, and right on top of our water aquifer. We are here to protect our groundwater from contamination. I am here as a guardian of the Grand Canyon. We are here united today to speak for the water. Water is life.”
Red Butte is located on ancestral Havasupai lands, they call the sacred site Wii’i Gdwiisa, or “clenched fist mountain.”
Energy Fuels: A Track Record of Irresponsibility
Director of operations for Energy Fuels Inc (EFI) Donn Pillmore answered questions from council members regarding the haul route. He stated that their company had a team to address any uranium ore spills that would occur along the route.
Council member Eva Putzova asked, “So if [an accident] was to happen in Flagstaff or close to Flagstaff then your team, from where would they be dispatched?”
Pillmore responded, “We have a radiation safety officer that is located at our Blanding mill.”
Putzova asked, “How far, how many hours is that away from Flagstaff?”
Pillmore, “…to Flagstaff it’s about 3 1/2 hours.”
Alicyn Gitlin, Flagstaff resident and member of the Sierra Club Grand Canyon Chapter stated, “Do we trust the uranium industry to have our best interests at heart? Do we trust them to protect us from contamination, dust, and accidents?” Gitlin offered some history regarding uranium transport accidents in the region, “Before 1986, when Canyon Mine’s record of decision was signed by the Forest Service, five spills had already occurred from trucks carrying ore from colorado plateau mines, including one that dumped over two tons. In one of those cases Navajo Nation officials arrived to find workers kicking sand on top of the spilled ore.” Gitlin added, “In 2015, and 2016 there two were leaks from trucks carrying radioactive materials and in January 2017 another leak.”
Gitlin addressed that EFI refused to update Canyon Mine’s 1984 Plan of Operations and 1986 Environmental Impact Statement and Record of Decision. “We are told by the mine operators that uranium mining today is cleaner and safer than it was 30 years ago. But not at Canyon Mine!” stated Gitlin.
Speakers throughout the night continued to address EFI’s track record of irresponsibility and threat to health and safety.
In March 2017 Haul No! volunteers along with Sierra Club, Center for Biological Diversity, Diné No Nukes, and Clean Up The Mines representatives uncovered that Canyon Mine had flooded when workers unintentionally drilled into a perched aquifer. The water was found to contain uranium and high levels of arsenic, and was being sprayed into the air to “evaporate.” Further investigation revealed that the water was illegally being trucked to Utah, in violation of Arizona State law.
On March 24, 2017, a major accident occurred at Canyon Mine, halting all work on the mine shaft for months. Accidents are required to be reported to the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) within 15 minutes. Instead, an anonymous caller finally alerted MSHA, who came out and investigated, finding that the accident scene had already been compromised.
Gitlin asked, “So, why should we trust Energy Fuels to drive their trucks through Northern Arizona? Why should we trust them at all? Why do we trust them with our health and safety?”
Leona Morgan, Diné (Navajo) and Haul No! organizer, spoke to council regarding proposals for waste sites near southeast New Mexico and at Yucca Mountain for waste from nuclear reactors. Morgan explained this would mean transport of deadly high-level radioactive waste through Flagstaff on I-40 and the railways from over 100 nuclear reactors in the country, “I implore you to consider the transport issue beyond just uranium mining.”
Haul No! has been successful in gaining resolutions opposing ore transport from Diné communities such as Cameron, Coal Mine, Oljaito, Monument Valley, Kayenta, Western Navajo Agency, and from the Hualapai and Havasupai Tribes.
Flagstaff would be the first off-reservation community to pass a resolution and could be the first community to pass an ordinance challenging Federal authority regarding transport of uranium from Canyon Mine.
Phoenix based organization Arizona Stands organized a solidarity rally at Arizona Department of Environmental Quality’s (AZDEQ) headquarters in Phoenix, AZ the same day. AZDEQ is responsible for issuing Arizona State environmental permits for Canyon Mine.
Pliny Draper, Diné from Chinle, Arizona spoke at the rally and said, “I have no hesitation to defend those who are depending on me… what kind of leaders do we have elected that would turn their backs on us like this? It’s evil people. We’ve got to put a stop to this. I don’t know why they would think of taking that uranium out of the ground.” Draper stated that he knew the threat of uranium very well as he had four abandoned uranium mines on his land that have not been cleaned up.
More information and action: www.haulno.org