KINGMAN - A lawsuit challenging the closure of federal land in northern Arizona to new mining claims for the next 20 years can move forward, according to an Arizona U.S District Court judge.
Mohave County is one of the plaintiffs and District 3 Supervisor Buster Johnson responded to the news in a statement.
"All I have ever wanted was for the federal courts to recognize that by law, local governments have legitimate stewardship roles to play in managing the lands which surround us; that we have a right to defend those interests in Court; that it is not the sole prerogative of unelected federal bureaucrats and their bosses who act as our absentee landlords on 18th & C Street in Washington, D.C. some 2,500 miles east of Mohave County," he said.
After three years of studies, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced in January 2012 that the department would prohibit new mining claims on more than one million acres of federal lands surrounding the Grand Canyon National Park, including land in the Arizona Strip areaarea in northern Mohave County. The area is rich in uranium deposits and a spike in the price of the precious metal created intense interest in the area.
The federal government stated it wanted to protect the natural beauty of the area and the Colorado River.
In November 2011, Gregory Yount, who owns two mining claims in the area, sued Salazar and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, saying the federal government had not followed federal laws and did not publish a supplement to its environmental study of the area after he filed more than 102 pages of corrections. He also challenged Salazar's authority to block new claims.
It typically takes an act of Congress to remove federal land from use. Jeff Flake, who was serving in the U.S. House of Representatives at the time, attempted to challenge Salazar's decision with a bill, but the bill failed to get approval from both houses of Congress.
Yount asked the district court to set aside Salazar's decision. Several mining companies also filed lawsuits that were eventually consolidated in August 2012.
Mohave County joined the lawsuit in April 2012 and argued that Salazar's decision failed to take into account potential harm to the county's economy, including the loss of "tens of millions of dollars in revenue and jobs" over the next 40 years.
According to the court docket, the federal government has tried to have the case dismissed, stating that Yount, the mining companies and the county lack legal standing to challenge the withdrawal of the land or the constitutionality of the department's decision.
The court ruled Tuesday that Yount, the mining companies and the county have legal standing to challenge Salazar's decision.
Opponents of the mining ban are afraid the federal government may try to get the area designated as a wilderness area through the Antiquities Act, which would forever prohibit mining, grazing and logging in the area.