HRI pleased with Church Rock support for mining

By Alastair Lee Bitsoi
Navajo Times

WINDOW ROCK, February 14, 2013

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M ark Pelizza, senior vice president of Health, Safety, Environment and Public Affairs for Uranium Resources, Inc., is ecstatic about Church Rock Chapter supporting the development of in-situ recovery process uranium mining at its Section 8 Church Rock site.

"We are very pleased that the chapter has recognized the value of our project," Pelizza said. "The chapter is a stakeholder in our development. Our pledge is to work with the chapter now and forever and the Navajo Nation as well."

Last month, the chapter passed a resolution supporting URI's remediation of the Section 17 site, also located in the chapter's boundaries, and the development of an in-situ recovery demonstration project on the Section 8 site. URI and its subsidiary Hydro Resources Inc. have a Nuclear Regulatory Commission license to develop and operate an in-situ recovery project on the section 8 and 17 properties, land just outside the Navajo reservation's boundary.

The process of in-situ recovery, or ISR, requires injecting solvents into uranium-rich rock layer, then pumping out the dissolved uranium.

Following a motion by community member Jennie Lee and a second motion by Dolly Pine, the chapter passed the resolution on Jan. 20 with 68 community members in favor, 26 opposed, and 16 abstained.

The resolution is endorsed by Chapter President Johnnie Henry, as well as Vice President Sherman Woody, Secretary/Treasurer Louise Jim, Community Service Coordinator Alvin Billie and Council delegate Edmund Yazzie (Church Rock/Iyanbito/Mariano Lake/Pinedale/Smith Lake/Thoreau).

According to language in the resolution, URI/HRI has agreed to clean up the existing contaminated areas of Section 17 legacy mine prior to conducting commercial ISR mining at the site. Section 17 is a legacy site previously owned by the United Nuclear Corp. that was never completely remediated.

"Our company has agreed to remediate that site prior to commercial development of the section 8 operation," Pelizza said. "The chapter is very supportive of it. That's work in progress right now."

The uranium company has also agreed, the resolution states, to improve the Blackrock/Livingston Road in conjunction with the cleanup at Section 17.

"The chapter...asked we do basic work for culverts, drainage and etc. to improve that road," Pelizza said, "And we have agreed."

While remediation occurs at Section 17, URI/HRI has agreed to the chapter's request to conduct at the same time a demonstration project at its Section 8 property.

"The chapter has asked to move forward in a 'careful and incremental approach' by first doing a safety demonstration project in the field," Pelizza said. "Its essentially a miniature version of a commercial demonstration."

After the demonstration project proves to be safe for employees and the environment, URI/HRI would ramp up its full-scale operation, supplying approximately 50 full-time jobs and 25 permanent contract positions for its construction, operation and remediation phases.

Pelizza said URI/HRI has committed to a goal of hiring 70 percent of its employees from the local workforce. About $35 million annually is projected to benefit the Church Rock community and surrounding areas through payroll, supplies and services, the resolution states.

Henry, a former uranium miner at UNC from 1974 to 1980, supports HRI's development of uranium in his chapter, saying it's not like what UNC and Kerr-McGee did.

"We've been meeting with URI/HRI representatives over the past several months," he said. "As president, I stand for economic development and the bringing in of companies."

Henry acknowledges the legacy of uranium mining and milling in his community - particularly the July 16, 1979 United Nuclear Corp., tailings spill - and added that uranium extraction from the Section 17 and 8 properties would in no way spill.

"Section 17 and 8, they are away from the spill," said Henry, who witnessed the earthen dam owned by the United Nuclear Corp. break and release 1,100 tons of radioactive uranium tailings and 94 gallons of toxic wastewater into the Rio Puerco up to as far as the Arizona state line.

"In fact, both weren't producing anything when the spill occurred," he added.

Henry also said he had experienced no health impacts from being a former UNC miner himself, except for reaching the age of 60.

"The water that URI/HRI is going to use is already contaminated in the earth and the water they are going to use is coming from that same area," he said. "They're not going to disturb another water table. They're going to reuse the contaminated water."

Teddy Nez, a community and environmental health specialist with the Southwest Research and Information Center in Albuquerque and a member of Eastern Navajo Dine Against Uranium Mining, told the Navajo Times on Wednesday people from Church Rock were misled in the vote.

"The voting is false," he said, explaining there were many people who abstained than what is tallied on the official resolution. Nez said he abstained but his vote didn't count toward the record.

"After the resolution passed, people were saying, 'I shouldn't have voted for it,'" he said. "The resolution wasn't legal. It wasn't reviewed by the Navajo Nation."

Nez, who lives about four miles away from the Section 8 and 17 properties in Red Water Pond Road community, is an outspoken opponent of any uranium development on the Navajo Nation, after witnessing firsthand the July 16, 1979 Church Rock uranium tailings spill. He organizes the annual "Uranium Legacy Remembrance Day," which commemorates the Church Rock uranium tailings spill.

From a legislative standpoint, Council Delegate Yazzie said, "It's going to be a long process."

Besides Church Rock, most chapters in Yazzie's district are against uranium development, often citing the Diné Natural Resources Protection Act of 2005. The protection act is a moratorium that bans uranium mining on the Navajo Nation until the legacy waste of past conventional uranium mining and milling from the Cold War Era is cleaned up.

He added that a Council resolution would need to be passed to undo a tribal law that prevents the transfer of uranium ore across tribal lands.

"They would cross over Navajo land to transport uranium," he explained.

Meanwhile, URI/HRI has entered into a temporary access agreement with the tribe, according to Pelizza.

"We settled that and entered a temporary access agreement with the Navajo Nation for the limited purpose of doing remediation on section 17," Pelizza said. "In the future, we have to reach resolution on access to section 17."

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