Coalition ushers a mine off sacred ground

Agreement will fill a hole dug for the fashion industry

 

On the slopes of the San Francisco Peaks, north of Flagstaff, Ariz., a pit 100 feet deep yields volcanic pumice, a soft rock used to give blue jeans the "stone-washed" look. For the last three years, a determined coalition led by the Sierra Club and 13 Native American tribes which hold the Peaks sacred have campaigned to stop a proposed expansion of Arizona Tufflite Inc." s White Vulcan Mine (HCN, 12/6/99: Pumice mine is a test case). On Aug. 28, their campaign ended in total victory.

At a ceremony next to the mine pit beneath drizzly skies, James Lyons, undersecretary of Agriculture, Mark Squillace of the Department of the Interior, and Douglas Martin, attorney for Arizona Tufflite Inc., signed an agreement to shut down the mine within six months and reclaim the 90-acre site over the next five years.

Tufflite will receive $1 million - once Congress appropriates the money - and will be allowed to remove pumice already stockpiled on the property for the next 10 years. Tufflite will also relinquish 49 mining claims in the area, covering 8,000 acres of land. For its part, the government will drop a lawsuit demanding $300,000 in unpaid royalties for pumice sold in recent years.

Credit for the mine closure went to Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt, a native of Flagstaff, who visited the mine on April 25 and called it "a sacrilege." He pledged to work to shut it down, and fulfilled his promise by using a mediator to broker the deal.

The White Vulcan Mine operated for 50 years under the 1872 Mining Law, which gives mining companies access to publicly owned lands and minerals for minimal or no royalties. The mine provided sand, gravel and powdery pumice for lightweight concrete. In the mid-1980s, the fashion industry sparked a fad demanding stonewashed denim for jeans and jackets.

"Our business really took off then," said mine owner Ed Morgan. "We did between $2 million-$3 million worth of business last year." The company recently applied for a permit from the Forest Service to expand the mine onto an additional 30 acres.

Of 6,000 comments on the proposed expansion received by the Forest Service, four were in favor.

Andy Bessler of the Sierra Club's "Save the Peaks" campaign said, "This settlement represents a shift that is happening in this country toward preserving both biological and cultural diversity. It's a major victory. But as long as the 1872 Mining Law is in place, mountains like this are threatened."

As 100 people gathered on the slopes of the Peaks for the signing ceremony a light rain began to fall. Three times, speakers mentioned the 1872 Mining Law, and each mention was followed by a loud clap of thunder - a phenomenon noted both by the Hopis and James Lyons.

A delegation from the Hopi tribe was pleased by the settlement. The Hopi believe the Peaks are home to the kachina spirits who take the form of rain clouds and visit the cornfields near the Hopi mesas. At the ceremony, Tribal Chairman Wayne Taylor looked skyward with a smile and said, "The kachinas are happy. They're bringing rain to show their appreciation." Former Hopi Chairman Ferrell Secakuku called it "the best day of my life," while Cultural Preservation Officer Leigh Kuwanwisiwma concluded, "This shows that people don't need to be adversaries forever."

Christopher "Toby" McLeod lives in La Honda, Calif., where he produces documentary films. He is completing In the Light of Reverence, on Native American struggles to protect sacred sites.

Copyright © 2000 HCN and Christopher McLeod


High Country News Classifieds
  • WATER PROJECT MANAGER, UPPER SAN PEDRO (ARIZONA)
    Based in Tucson or Sierra Vista, AZ., the Upper San Pedro Project Manager develops, manages, and advances freshwater conservation programs, plans, and methods focusing on...
  • CAMPAIGNS DIRECTOR
    Southeast Alaska Conservation is hiring. Visit https://www.seacc.org/about/hiring for info. 907-586-6942 [email protected]
  • FINANCE & GRANTS MANAGER
    The Blackfoot Challenge, located in Ovando, MT, seeks a self-motivated, detail-oriented individual to conduct bookkeeping, financial analysis and reporting, and grant oversight and management. Competitive...
  • WADE LAKE CABINS, CAMERON MT
    A once in a lifetime opportunity to live and run a business on the shore of one of the most beautiful lakes in SW Montana....
  • CONTRIBUTING EDITOR, BOOKS, CULTURE AND COMMENTARY (PART-TIME, CONTRACT)
    High Country News is seeking a Contributing Editor for Books, Culture and Commentary to assign and edit inquisitive, inspiring, and thought-provoking content for HCN in...
  • STATEWIDE COMMUNITY ORGANIZER
    ABOUT US Better Wyoming is a nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy organization that educates, organizes, and mobilizes Wyoming residents on behalf of statewide change. Learn more at...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    TwispWorks is a 501(c)3 that promotes economic and cultural vitality in the mountainous Methow Valley, the eastern gateway to North Cascades National Park in Washington...
  • CLEAN ENERGY ADVOCATE OR DIRECTOR
    Location: Helena, Montana Type: Permanent, full time after 1-year probationary period. Reports to: Director of Policy and Legislative Affairs. Travel: Some overnight travel, both in-state...
  • PROFESSIONAL GIS SERVICES
    Custom Geospatial Solutions is available for all of your GIS needs. Affordable, flexible and accurate data visualization and analysis for any sized project.
  • DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR
    Restore Hetch Hetchy, a 501 (c)(3) nonprofit organization, seeks experienced development professional to identify and engage individuals and institutions who are inspired to help underwrite...
  • PUBLIC LANDS COUNSEL
    The successful candidate will be the organization's lead counsel on public lands issues, including reviewing federal administrative actions and proposed policy and helping to shape...
  • HUMAN RESOURCES DIRECTOR
    Solar Energy International (SEI) is a 501(c)3 non-profit education organization with a mission to provide industry-leading technical training and expertise in renewable energy to empower...
  • TRAINING MANAGER
    This is a full-time position based out of our Paonia office. This position is responsible for organizing all of Solar Energy International's renewable energy trainings....
  • GUIDE TO WESTERN NATIONAL MONUMENTS
    NEW BOOK showcases 70 national monuments across the western United States. Use "Guide10" for 10% off at cmcpress.org
  • RARE CHIRICAHUA RIPARIAN LAND FOR SALE
    40 acres: 110 miles from Tucson: native trees, grasses: birder's heaven::dark sky/ borders state lease & National forest/5100 ft/13-16 per annum rain
  • ENVIRONMENTAL GEOPHYSICS
    "More Data, Less Digging" Find groundwater and reduce excavation costs!
  • LUNATEC ODOR-FREE DISHCLOTHS
    are a must try. They stay odor-free, dry fast, are durable and don't require machine washing. Try today.
  • 10 ACRES OF NEW MEXICO HIGH DESERT
    10 Acres of undeveloped high desert land in central NM, about 45 minutes from downtown Albuquerque. Mixed cedar and piñon pine cover. Some dirt roadways...
  • OPERATIONS DIRECTOR
    We are a Santa Fe-based nonprofit that builds resilience on arid working lands. We foster ecological, economic, and social health through education, innovation, and collaboration....
  • RURAL ACREAGE OUTSIDE SILVER CITY, NM
    Country living just minutes from town! 20 acres with great views makes a perfect spot for your custom home. Nice oaks and juniper. Cassie Carver,...