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Opponents file suit to stop Barrick's Cortez Hills gold project

by Dorothy KosichMineweb
November 25th, 2008

Opponents of the Cortez Hills Gold Project are seeking an immediate and permanent injunction to stop Barrick from proceeding with the million-ounce per year project.

The South Fork Band of the Western Shoshone, their representative the Western Shoshone Defense Project, the Timbisha Shoshone Tribe, and the environmental NGO, Great Basin Resource Watch filed a lawsuit last week in a Reno federal court.

In the pleadings filed by Reno attorney Henry Egghart on behalf of the Western Mining Action Project, attorneys Roger Flynn and Jeffrey C. Parsons asserted that  a recent Record of Decision by the Bureau of Land Management approving Barrick's Cortez Hills gold project, is "arbitrary, capricious, constitutes an abuse of discretion, were done without observance of procedure required by law,  are in excess of statutory jurisdiction, authority or limited, and are otherwise not in accordance with law."

The Western Mining Action Project (WSDP) claims the Cortex Hill's Project "is located entirely within the territory of the Western Shoshone, which was recognized in the 1863 Treaty of Ruby Valley. However, attorneys Roger Flynn and Jeffrey C. Parsons make it clear that the treaty is not part of their lawsuit.

The suit, instead, focuses on the location of the Cortez Hills Project on the slopes of Mt. Tenabo, which is described as "a mountain that is sacred to the Western Shoshone people and is currently used (as it has been for centuries) for religious and cultural purposes by the Western Shoshone people..."

In their lawsuit the Western Shoshone Defense Project and other Western Shoshone groups object to the "new massive open pit on Mt. Tenabo ," an extensive groundwater pumping system to dewater Mt. Tenabo, and the disturbance of 6,571 acres of federal public land in and around Mt. Tenabo.

The plaintiffs say members of the South Fork Bank, Timbisha Tribe, WSDP, and GBMW {Great Basin Mine Watch, now Great Basin Resource Watch) "continue to use the mine site and adjacent lands for hunting, gathering, religious, cultural, and other traditional uses as well as for recreational, conservational, and aesthetic enjoyment. "

"Western Shoshone religious and cultural uses of the mine site will be permanently eliminated. Religious, cultural and other uses on lands outside the permit boundary of the mine will be severely and adversely affect, if not outright eliminated, by the mine."

"In approving the project, the BLM failed to adequately protect public and public land resources, including the religious, cultural, and environmental resources and uses at and around the project site as required by FLPMA [Federal Land Policy and Management Act], the RFRA [Religious Freedom Restoration Act], the Trust Responsibility owed to Native Americas and the implementing regulations of these statues," the lawsuit asserted, adding that the BLM "also failed to fully evaluated the project's impacts as required by NEPA [National Environmental Policy Act] and FLPMA."

In a statement last week, Larson Bill, vice-chairman of the South Fork Band Council, said, "How are we, as a nation, showing our values, if we allow a transnational corporation to destroy this ‘church' for all time, just to get 10 years worth of gold. There are dozens of active gold mines on Western Shoshone lands already; there is no need for this one, which is clearly immoral and irresponsible. ...We have been clear in our opposition to this mine and while Barrick tries to cloud the real issues with gifts and money, we continue to oppose this project-they have not bought our people, the traditions nor the lands of the Shoshone."

Dan Randolph, executive director of Great Basin Resource Watch, said, "This is an example of how the Bush Administration is rushing to protect their corporate friends in their last few months in power. The BLM denied requests to extend the comment period on the Environmental Impact Statement not only from us, but also from several Western Shoshone tribal governments.

"Therefore, we are forced to now turn to the courts to stop this project. We know that Barrick will begin work in the mine as soon as they can, to cause enough harm in an attempt to make the religious rights arguments moot, and the BLM and Bush Administration appear to be more than willing to help them in every way possible," he added.

For a number of years the WSDP and Great Basin Resource Watch (formerly Great Basin Mine Watch) have raised issues concerning the Cortez Hills Project potential to interfere with the flows in springs, seeps and other surface and ground waters surrounding Mt. Tenabo.

While the BLM says it will fully mitigate for the loss of any lows in springs, seeps, and other surface and ground water, the project opponents argue the plan focuses too much on monitoring rather than preventing loss or damage to the surface and groundwater, springs and seeps.


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