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By Erika Buck

January 23, 2001

Special to this newspaper

WASHINGTON (MNS) — Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt yesterday approved a decision to block construction of the Glamis Imperial gold mine project proposed for eastern Imperial County.

The decision, recommended by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, marked the first time a mining project was turned down because it would have caused ‘‘undue impairment or degradation'' of the area.

Quechan Tribe members were concerned that the mine would endanger the land's spiritual, archaeological and historic value.

Mike Jackson, president of the Quechan Tribe, tearfully expressed the tribe's thanks to Babbitt for his action.

‘‘The land was very precious to (our ancestors) and it still is today,'' he said.

The mine would have brought 120 jobs to the Imperial County area, according to Glamis officials. But Jackson argued the jobs were not worth the risk to his tribe's land.

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‘‘They're pushing jobs, which is good. Everybody needs jobs,'' he said. ‘‘But jobs and the value of gold still don't replace destroying artifacts on our sacred sites.''

Glamis Gold Ltd. of Reno, Nev., the parent company of Glamis Imperial, said in a statement it would appeal the decision in federal court and ‘‘vigorously defend its property interests at the Imperial Project through all available means.''

‘‘We think they're totally wrong and it's a sad day for mining,'' said David Hyatt, a spokesman for Glamis Gold. ‘‘It's a land-use issue. … The Bureau of Land Management has never done this before. We think they're wrong and we'll see them in court.''

Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., supported Babbitt's decision.

‘‘We have a legal and moral responsibility to be good stewards of our public lands and to guard irreplaceable historic sites with special care,'' she said.

The mine was proposed for the Indian Pass area in eastern Imperial County, about 45 miles northeast of El Centro.

Wednesday's announcement was initially scheduled to be made on the site of the proposed mine, but an Interior Department official said Babbitt had to be in Washington on Wednesday for a meeting with President Clinton.

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