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Babbitt to deny Indian Pass gold mine

January 12, 2001|By RUDY YNIGUEZ, Staff Writer

Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt is expected to visit the Indian Pass area on Tuesday afternoon to announce a record of decision to deny the development of a gold mine in the area.

"It's going to be up near the area where the mine was going to be," said John Dearing, spokesman in Interior's Sacramento office of external affairs. "We think it's going to be right at noon."

Babbitt also is expected to visit San Diego on Wednesday morning and announce a separate record of decision approving the so-called interim surplus operating criteria for the Colorado River.

The rejection of the proposed gold mine is expected to be a test case of this newly found authority on the part of BLM to reject hard-rock mining on public lands. That newly found authority comes in the form of a legal opinion by the Department of the Interior Solicitor John Leshy. The opinion was issued early last year and concludes BLM may reject projects deemed to cause undue impairment or undue degradation to an area intended for mining.


The legal opinion is considered a "reinterpretation" of BLM's responsibilities under the 1980 California Desert Conservation Area plan. The opinion is thought by BLM to state that BLM has had the authority all along to reject such mining proposals even though the final environmental impact report/environmental impact statement leaves open the possibility of future gold-mining operations in the same area.

"Whether the BLM may deny the Glamis plan approval … depends upon the particular facts, including the significance of the resources to be protected," the opinion states. "The Advisory Council on Historic Preservation has found that mitigation measures proposed by the company do not prevent destruction of the area's important cultural, historic and scientific values."

Those important cultural, historic and scientific values are largely associated with the Quechan Indian Nation, which supports the opposition to the mine.

Mining officials have said the action taken by Interior is a deliberate circumvention of the desires of Congress stated in the 1872 Mining Act and that the rejection of the mine will lead to court.

Though BLM chose the no-action alternative as its preference in the final environmental document, it's preferred alternative under the draft environmental document was to allow the mine. The Leshy opinion resulted in BLM's rejection of the mine.

In addition to rejecting the mine for development, BLM closed off 9,360.74 acres in the Indian Pass area to certain mining activities. The site is 45 miles northeast of El Centro and 20 miles northwest of Yuma. The area is northeast of Ogilby Road along Indian Pass Road.

Of the Colorado River interim surplus operating criteria, the record of decision will clear the way for the river's reservoirs to be operated in such a manner as to guarantee that the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California's Colorado River Aqueduct is kept full for at least 15 years while California gradually reduces its draw from the river. The state has a legal apportionment to 4.4 million acre-feet yearly but has been drawing as much as 5.2 million yearly.

Babbitt is tentatively expected to be in San Diego at 9 a.m. Wednesday at a location to be determined by San Diego County Water Authority officials.

All seven river basin states have agreed to the operating criteria.

Staff writer Rudy Yniguez can be reached at 337-3440.

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