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Know the West



U.S. District Court Judge James A. Redden announced he plans to order the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to release water from its dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers to help endangered salmon and steelhead (HCN, 6/13/05: "For salmon, a crucial moment of decision"). Although NOAA Fisheries, the agency charged with protecting the fish, had said dam operations would not jeopardize salmon and steelhead, Judge Redden disagrees. He wrote that NOAA, the Corps and the Bureau of Reclamation have failed to ensure operations do not adversely affect the fish, and that the latter two agencies have violated the Endangered Species Act (HCN, 7/19/04: "Global Warming's Unlikely Harbingers").

Montana’s ban on cyanide heap leach mining doesn’t constitute a property taking, says the state’s Supreme Court (HCN, 11/22/04: "Election Day surprises in the schizophrenic West"). The original ban, passed by voters in 1998 — and upheld in 2004 — allowed companies with existing permits to continue using cyanide to leach microscopic bits of gold and silver from tons of ore. Future permits were outlawed. In 1998, Canyon Resources Corp. was applying for its permit when the state issued a stop-work order because the company owed money to a contractor and to the state. When the ban passed, the company sued, saying the state owed it compensation based on the value of its lease before the ban. The court disagreed, and pointed out that the right to mine is conditional upon actually receiving a permit.

There are still a few kinks to work out in the plans to drill for natural gas at an underground nuclear test site (HCN, 3/7/05: "Drilling Could Wake a Sleeping Giant"). When the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission set up a half-mile buffer zone around the Project Rulison test site, it didn’t specify whether that applied to the surface well or, in the case of directionally drilled wells, the bottom of the well. Also, Presco Inc. is talking about drilling four wells within that buffer zone, but Garfield County officials say they were only told of one well. The earliest the buffer zone issue could be resolved is October, says Tricia Beaver, hearings manager for the state commission.