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Trust calls Indian Pass an endangered historical site

June 07, 2002|By MATT YOUNG

Special to this newspaper

WASHINGTON (MNS) — Imperial County's Indian Pass is one of the 11 most endangered historical sites in the United States this year because a mine may be built nearby, according to the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

The area, historically used by Quechan Indians for spiritual purposes, ‘‘is increasingly threatened by mining'' interests, Richard Moe, president of the preservation group, said Thursday.

Glamis Gold Ltd., a mining company based in Reno, is awaiting a permit from the Department of Interior to begin excavating land near the pass.

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‘‘The mine would have three huge open pits up to 880 feet deep and a cyanide heap leach pile as high as 300 feet,'' the preservation group states. ‘‘The ore is of such low grade that only one ounce of gold would be mined for every 422 tons of waste rock removed.''

A leach pile is composed of low-grade ore infused with a cyanide solution to separate gold from minerals.

While a top Glamis official didn't dispute those figures, he said one mine would be excavated at a time so three pits would never be open at once. And eventually, the cyanide would be rinsed away and only dirt would remain, he said.

Moe said the endangered list is a tool to bring attention, money and other resources to 11 places each year. Only one of 135 sites that the group has cited since it started the lists in 1988 has been destroyed, said a spokesman.

But the conflict over Indian Pass is not as simple as good vs. evil. If successful in its permit quest, Glamis could bring needed jobs and revenue to a county that is among the poorest in California.

‘‘We're talking millions of dollars in payroll taxes and property taxes'' that Glamis could bring to the county, said David Hyatt, the company's vice president of investor relations.

Hyatt said Glamis would bring 100 to 150 new jobs to the county. Both professionals, like engineers, and laborers, such as truck drivers, would be required for the project, he said.

Hyatt said Glamis wants to work with the Quechan Indians to avoid intruding onto their sacred land, but no agreement has been reached yet.

The area that Glamis wants to mine is seven to eight miles from Indian Pass, but Margaret Hangan, an archaeologist for the El Centro field office for the Bureau of Land Management, said, the proposed mining area is part of what local residents consider the Indian Pass area. Hangan said Quechan Indians walk along paths that run right through the Glamis project area as part of their traditional rites.

‘‘The last thing you want to run into making one of those journeys is a leach pile,'' she said.

Mike Jackson, president of the Quechan Tribal Council, did not return phone calls.

Glamis has spent more than $14 million on its Imperial Project since 1995, when it first requested the mining permit.

The Clinton administration had given the Bureau of Land Management the right to stop mining projects if the bureau believed great harm would be caused to the environment or cultural areas, but Bush's Interior secretary, Gail Norton, revoked that privilege.

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