Archive of Prominent Section 106 Cases:
California: Development of Glamis Imperial Corporation Mine,
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Agency: Bureau of Land Management
Criteria for Council Involvement:
The Council is involved in this case under the terms of the 1997 nationwide Programmatic Agreement for Bureau of Land Management undertakings. In addition:
- The Indian Pass-Running Man Area of Traditional Cultural Concern and other properties are noteworthy for their importance to the religion and culture of the Quechan Tribe (Criterion 1).
- This project highlights potential conflicts between Section 106 and the Mining Act of 1872 (Criteria 2 and 3).
- The Quechan Tribe has indicated that project impacts will destroy the tribe's ability to practice their traditional religion and culture (Criterion 4).
On October 19, 1999, Chairman Slater submitted formal comments to the Secretary of Interior asking that the plan of operations for the Imperial Mine project in California not be approved based on the project’s serious and irreparable degradation of an area that is sacred and historic to the Quechan Tribe.
The Council’s opposition to the project is based on the findings of a Council member working group which determined that the proposed mine and its operation would unduly degrade the Indian Pass-Running Man Area of Traditional Cultural Concern, introducing activities and intrusions incompatible with the historic area and its unique qualities.
The Council concluded that the project would essentially result in the destruction of the Quechan Tribe’s ability to practice and transmit to future generations the ceremonies and values that sustain their cultural existence. The Council urged that the Department of Interior take whatever legal means available to deny approval for the project.
On January 14, 2000, the Department of Interior (DOI) issued a legal opinion that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has the authority, notwithstanding past BLM policy under the Mining Act of 1872, to deny approval of the project’s plan of operation if the BLM agrees with the Council’s findings that the project would effectively destroy the historic resources in the project area (see the Council's news release).
A key factor in the opinion is that the location of the project receives special protection as part of the California Desert Conservation Area (CDCA). Among other things, Federal law provides that mining claims within the CDCA can be subject to reasonable measures protecting the scientific, scenic, and environmental values of the land against “undue impairment.”
While the DOI opinion does not direct BLM's decision, it and the Council's findings will be considered by BLM in reaching the final decision to approve or deny the proposed plan of operations to develop the mine.
The California State Office of the BLM is reviewing a plan of operations submitted by Glamis Imperial Corporation for the development of an open-pit gold mine in eastern Imperial County. The plan was submitted pursuant to the Mining Act of 1872 and in accordance with BLM regulations. The proposed mine has three major components: a 1,571-acre mine and processing area; an ancillary area of 38 acres for water wells and utility corridors; and a 16-mile upgraded transmission line.
Cultural resource studies conducted by BLM have identified numerous historic properties within the area of potential effects. Among these is the Indian Pass-Running Man Area of Traditional Cultural Concern, a historic district of central importance to the culture of the Quechan Tribe. The area contains geoglyphs, petroglyphs, cleared circles, and trails that figure prominently in the transmittal and practice of the tribe’s traditional religious and cultural beliefs. BLM and the California State Historic Preservation Officer concur that the area is eligible for listing in the National Register.
The Quechan have indicated that the presence of the proposed mine would destroy their ability to practice their traditional religion and culture. A proposed 300-foot-high stockpile would obscure viewsheds and a proposed mining pit 200 acres across and 900-feet deep would deface the landscape.
The tribe opposes the project, contending that the impact on their traditional culture cannot be mitigated by measures proposed by BLM and the Glamis Imperial Corporation. These include moving some proposed stockpiles, altering haulage routes, and relinquishing about 800 acres of nearby mining claims.
In addition, BLM has proposed to protect significant cultural features in the area by flagging them and erecting temporary barriers to keep heavy equipment from straying out of targeted construction areas. Other measures have been discussed, including providing funding or other materials to the tribe for educational and research purposes.
In recognition of the complex and controversial nature of this mining project, Chairman Slater appointed a Council working group to advise and direct the staff: Dick Sanderson, Environmental Protection Agency; Elizabeth Merritt, National Trust for Historic Preservation; and Ray Soon, Native Hawaiian Council member.
An onsite inspection and public meeting was held in March 1999; more than 50 people spoke during the six-hour meeting. Testimony ranged from support for the mine because of its economic benefits, to opposition based on its culturally destructive effects to the Quechan and other Indian tribes. A substantial majority of the speakers opposed the mine.
During the following months, the Council member working group, Council staff, and representatives from BLM met with representatives of the Glamis Imperial Corporation and reviewed documentation provided by the company.
This case has been complicated by the provisions of the Mining Act of 1872, which govern Federal regulation of private mining claims on public lands. Previously, BLM has taken a restrictive view of its authority to actually deny a proposed mining plan of operations and has looked instead to developing mitigation measures that can be incorporated into the plan. The most recent legal opinion from DOI departs from BLM's traditional interpretation.
Staff contact: Alan Stanfill
October 1999 report on this case
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