A mine turns two landowners into activists

  • Kay Howe says "Us 50-year-olds are tired."

    Heather Abel
  • Claudia Akers did not want to get into the mine-fighting business

    Heather Abel

Note: This article is a sidebar to this issue's feature story.

LISBON VALLEY, Utah - All Kay Howe and Claudia Akers wanted was to buy some land where it was cheaper than in Moab - on Three Step Mesa in Lisbon Valley, some of San Juan County's rare private land. As the realtor showed them the few acres of sagebrush and unimpressive red canyon, he felt compelled to mention the possibility of an open-pit copper mine just a few miles west.

Before buying, the two women went to Summo's public information meeting in 1995, two of the four citizens attending. "I didn't know anything about acid mine drainage. I didn't know heap leach, sulfuric mine, and nobody knew what to ask," says Akers. "I didn't realize how bad it was. The Summo guys make it seem like a trip to Disneyland."

They bought the land and then reluctantly looked at Summo's draft environmental impact statement. Not understanding the technical jargon, they contacted every environmentalist whose comments were published in the EIS and asked for help.

This was not how they wanted to spend their time. Neither considered herself an activist. Howe is a single mother of four. Akers was Moab's first female jeep tour driver. Both patch together incomes from odd jobs in the tourism and movie industries that feed Moab.

"If you go down the street and ask people, "Do you know anything about Summo?" everyone says, "What?" The BLM did nothing," says Howe. "It is up to us to educate people. Like we have the time. Sure, pay me, and I can buy my groceries."

Nevertheless, today they speak environmental jargon like lifelong Sierra Club members. Calling themselves the Protect Our Resources Coalition, they have joined the Mineral Policy Center and the National Wildlife Federation in appealing the BLM's decision to allow the mine. But they feel abandoned by Moab's environmental community.

"People here just roll over and take it," says Howe. "We don't need copper to live. We need water to live. This is a desert. Get real, guys."

"Our true feeling is that this company is going to come in, leave us with the mess and get out. There are lots of people who could have stopped it, but were too damned selfish doing their own thing," says Akers. "Us 50-year-olds are tired."

But Akers and Howe are not deterred by the reality of finding themselves fighting a mine.

"We agonized over moving here. Kay said it was the right thing to do. I still don't feel like it was a mistake," says Akers. "Nobody else would have done it and without us, (the mine) would be operating already. Maybe we were meant to come here."

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