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Governor vetoes sacred Indian sites protection bill



by way of Native News online

By DON THOMPSON
The Associated Press
SACRAMENTO
pe.com/ap_news/California/CA_Sacred_Sites_84538C.shtml

Gov. Gray Davis vetoed a bill that would help American Indians protect tribal land Monday, hours before his midnight deadline to act on legislation sent to him in the closing days of the legislative session.

The measure was opposed by developers and business groups that said the bill was so broad it could grant tribes veto power over both private and public land statewide, potentially delaying or blocking public improvement projects, school buildings and new homes.

The bill would have required local governments to notify a tribe of proposed construction within 20 miles of a reservation and protect from development sacred sites that tribes have used for generations.

The bill authored by Sen. John Burton, D-San Francisco, was spurred by opposition from the Quechan Nation to plans by Glamis Gold Ltd., a Reno, Nev.-based company that wants to build an open pit gold mine on federal land near the tribe's reservation near the Arizona-California line. The Imperial County land includes Indian Pass, a site of religious ceremonies that contains ancient pottery shards and petroglyphs.

Burton, who has had frequent public run-ins with Davis, declined comment Monday night.

The Interior Department on Friday revived the proposal, which had been blocked by the Clinton administration. A lawyer for the tribe, Courtney Coyle, said the ruling was intended to bolster the project against potentially unfavorable state action, an assertion dismissed by spokesmen for Glamis Gold and the government.

The department's Bureau of Land Management determined that Glamis' proposal to open a mine would be profitable, a requirement of federal mining law. It was an important step in the government's consideration of whether to grant Glamis a permit to open the mine on 1,571 acres of federal land in the southeast corner of the state, about 20 miles northwest of Yuma, Ariz.

Glamis senior vice president Charles Jeannes said the company would employ about 120 people to mine 1.1 million ounces of gold worth about $350 million at current prices.

But the decision was attacked Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., because the planned open pit gold mining "literally alters the face of the landscape."

"This mine would rip the heart out of the tribe's religious center," Boxer said. "There can be no justification for this decision."

A provision in the Senate's annual Interior Department spending bill also would bar the administration from spending any money to continue evaluating the Glamis proposal.

Coyle said the department appeared to be "racing the clock to set up some kind of situation where Glamis gets compensated for its claims" in the event the mine was blocked by California law. She contended the department's action would strengthen Glamis' claim for a financial settlement from the state, if the company cannot go forward with the mine under state law.

Interior's Bureau of Land Management still has to determine the impact on the environment before deciding whether to issue a permit for the mine. Spokeswoman Jan Bedrosian said the review would take three months and include consultation with the tribe.

Former Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt, a Democrat, based his denial of the project on a legal opinion that gave the interior secretary authority to block new mines on federal land where they could harm communities and the environment.

His Republican successor, Interior Secretary Gale Norton, overturned Babbitt's decision after her department rescinded the legal opinion that underlay Babbitt's decision. The company also sued BLM in federal court in Washington last year to overturn Babbitt's denial.

___

On the Net:

Read SB1828 at sen.ca.gov

BLM: blm.gov

Quechan Tribe: itcaonline.com/Tribes/quechan.htm

National Mining Association: nma.org

___

Editors: Associated Press Writer Mark Sherman contributed to this story from Washington, D.C. Published: Monday, September 30, 2002 21:02 PDT

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