When it comes to his Westwater mining claims, Ron Pene and the BLM disagree on nearly everything.
To begin with, Pene believes BLM
staffers overlooked man-made disturbances when they surveyed the
area for wilderness potential in the early 1980s. Those
disturbances disqualify the area for wilderness, he says. Agency
officials say that although staffers found some "vehicular trails'
and evidence of past mining, Westwater was classic wilderness with
no "permanent improvements."
As for the
bulldozed road, Pene maintains it's a county road that has always
looked like it does now. But BLM planner Alex VanHemert says the
agency has never recognized it as a county road. Pene illegally
modified it from a jeep track to a graded dirt road, he says. The
area has been officially closed to motorized vehicles since 1974,
he adds, although the agency didn't post a sign until
Because his claims are inside a wilderness
study area, Pene must follow special restrictions and an
agency-approved mining plan, says VanHemert. Pene claims he has
repeatedly filed the necessary mining permits but that the agency
keeps requesting more paperwork. Pene did have an approved mining
plan in 1986 for "casual use," but VanHemert says he needed to
submit a full plan subject to an environmental assessment prior to
bringing a bulldozer in. That's why he was cited in 1992.
Pene thinks the BLM is hard on him, but not on
recreationists. He says boaters leave human feces and trash on his
claims and that someone has repeatedly torn down his required
"I'm trying to live by the law,"
says Pene. "I don't want to push the issue. All I want is to be
left alone to mine my claim."