FLAGSTAFF, Arizona — A federal judge has ruled against environmentalists in their fight to halt a uranium mine south of the Grand Canyon that they say will harm people, water and wildlife in the region.
The lawsuit filed in 2013 alleged that the U.S. Forest Service violated federal law in allowing the Canyon Mine to move forward and didn't adequately consult with the Havasupai Tribe over a sacred site near Tusayan.
The claims were rejected Tuesday in a ruling by U.S. District Court Judge David Campbell in Phoenix. The Forest Service approved a plan of operation for the Canyon Mine in 1986, and officials argued that it remains valid, along with the mining claims owned by Energy Fuels Resources Inc.
The company plans to restart the Canyon Mine this spring, shifting employees from a mine north of the Grand Canyon after resources there are depleted. The company is pleased that Campbell recognized that the Forest service "engaged in extensive environmental analysis and consultation regarding the project," spokesman Curtis Moore said.
"It was a thorough decision. This mine is heavily studied, and it's well understood," Moore said.
The Forest Service declined to comment, citing a possible appeal. The coalition of environmental groups and the Havasupai Tribe have 60 days to challenge Campbell's ruling.
Katie Davis of the Tucson-based Center for Biological Diversity the ruling is a blow to efforts to protect culturally significant sites and reduce the hazards and costs associated with uranium mining.
"It will continue to haunt us going forward. This decision is another win for the industry," Davis said.
Environmentalists have challenged other northern Arizona mines on similar grounds and lost. The difference in this case, they argued, is that a determination on whether the company had a sufficient quality and quantity of uranium should have triggered a new review on environmental and cultural impacts.
Campbell said that determination wasn't a legal requirement for the Canyon Mine to resume because it already had an approved plan of operation. The mine lies in a nearly 1 million-acre area that was placed off-limits to new mining claims for 20 years, starting in January 2012.