[Federal Register Volume 73, Number 198 (Friday, October 10, 2008)]
[Notices]
[Pages 60233-60234]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: E8-23993]


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DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE

Forest Service


Kaibab National Forest; AZ; Uranium Exploratory Drilling Project

AGENCY: Forest Service, USDA.

ACTION: Notice of intent to prepare an environmental impact statement.

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SUMMARY: The USDA Forest Service is preparing an Environmental Impact 
Statement (EIS) to consider and disclose the effects of proposed 
exploratory drilling for uranium on National Forest System (NFS) land. 
The proposed exploratory drilling project would occur on mining claims 
held by VANE Minerals, Inc. and Uranium One (with all exploratory 
drilling to be completed by VANE Minerals, Inc.) in the Tusayan Ranger 
District, Kaibab National Forest within Townships 27, 28, 29 and 30 
North, Ranges 2, 3, 4 and 5 East, Gila and Salt River Meridian, 
Coconino County, Arizona. Exploration is proposed by VANE Minerals, 
Inc. to determine whether uranium deposits exist on these mining 
claims. A total of 25 drill sites are planned by VANE Minerals, Inc. 
Shallow drill holes would be drilled to determine whether or not 
``breccia pipes'' occur at the site. Breccia pipes are the geologic 
formations found in the Colorado Plateau region that can contain 
uranium minerals. Deep drill holes would be drilled to confirm the 
presence and extent of the breccia pipes and to gather additional 
information regarding the uranium concentrations found in these pipes. 
This EIS will include analyses and will disclose the potential 
environmental effects for future exploratory uranium drilling and 
accompanying ground-disturbing activities at the seven sites that were 
part of the VANE project challenged in Center for Biological Diversity 
v. Stahn, Civ. No. 08-8031-PCT-MHM (D. Ariz.).

DATES: Comments on this proposal must be received by the Kaibab 
National Forest (Forest) within 30 days following the publication of 
this notice in the Federal Register. The Draft EIS (DEIS) for the VANE 
Minerals Uranium Exploratory Drilling Project (Project) is expected to 
be available for public review in March 2009. At that time, the 
Environmental Protection Agency will publish a Notice of Availability 
(NOA) of the DEIS in the Federal Register. The NOA will begin a period 
of public review that will extend 45 days from the date of publication 
of the NOA in the Federal Register. The Final EIS (EElS) and a Record 
of Decision (ROD) are scheduled to be completed in December 2009.

ADDRESSES: Written comments on this notice may be mailed or hand-
delivered to Kaibab National Forest, Attn: VANE Minerals Uranium 
Exploratory Drilling Project, 800 S. 6th St., Williams, AZ 86046. 
Comments may also be submitted by facsimile to (928) 635-8208 and by 
electronic mail (e-mail) to [email protected]. E-
mail and facsimile comments must include the words ``VANE Minerals 
Uranium Exploratory Drilling Project.''

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: For further information on the VANE 
Minerals Uranium Exploratory Drilling Project (Project), please contact 
Tom Mutz, Lands and Minerals Staff Officer, in writing at Williams and 
Tusayan Ranger Districts, 742 S. Clover Rd., Williams AZ 86046 or by 
telephone at (928) 635-5600. Questions regarding the Forest Service 
NEPA process may be directed to Alvin Brown, Forest NEPA Coordinator, 
at 800 S. 6th St., Williams, AZ 86046 and telephone (928) 635-8200.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: The information presented in this notice is 
included to help reviewers determine if they are interested in or 
potentially affected by the proposed action.

Purpose and Need for Action

    In 2006, VANE Minerals, Inc. submitted a Plan of Operations to the 
Forest Service to drill exploration holes for uranium at a total of 
(10) sites within the Tusayan Ranger District, Kaibab National Forest. 
A categorical exclusion from documentation under the National 
Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) was completed in December 2007, and 
the Forest Service approved VANE Minerals, Inc.'s plan to drill on 
seven (7) of the ten (10) sites, in areas accessible by Forest Service 
roads. Exploratory drill operations began in March 2008, and one site 
was completed.
    A lawsuit was filed against the agency's use of a categorical 
exclusion and a Preliminary Injunction (PI) was ordered on further 
uranium exploratory drilling. The original agency decision has been 
withdrawn and an environmental impact statement will be completed on 
the balance of the original ten (10) sites (one site had exploratory 
drilling on it and was rehabilitated before the PI was instituted by 
the court), plus additional proposed sites VANE Minerals, Inc. 
submitted to the Forest Service in 2007.
    The agency's purpose is to analyze the proposals from VANE 
Minerals, Inc. and any reasonable alternatives, including any 
mitigation measures to protect the surface resources in the areas of 
exploratory drilling in order to approve a plan of operations for 
exploration. The agency's need for action is based on statutes and 
policy that govern mining on NFS land.
    Most NFS land is subject to the location of certain minerals under 
the Mining Law of 1872, as amended (30 U.S.C. 21-54, et seq.), and the 
directives in Forest Service Manual 2800. Prospecting, locating and 
developing the mineral resources on NFS land are also subject to other 
rules and regulations. These include, but are not limited to, the 1897 
Organic Administration Act, the 1960 Multiple-Use Sustained-Yield Act, 
the 1970 Mining and Minerals Policy Act, and Regulations at Title 36, 
Code of Federal Regulations, part 228A which sets forth rules and 
procedures governing the use of NFS lands in conjunction with

[[Page 60234]]

operations authorized by general mining laws.

Proposed Action

    The Forest Service proposes to authorize VANE Minerals, Inc. to 
perform exploratory drilling at the 25 drill sites proposed. This 
Proposed Action would constitute exploratory drilling only. No mining 
extraction or transporting of uranium minerals for processing would be 
contemplated or permitted by this proposal.

Public Involvement

    This notice of intent initiates the scoping process which guides 
the development of the environmental impact statement. The Forest 
received several comments during the categorical exclusion analysis in 
2007 which will be considered in this analysis. The Forest Service 
encourages the public to express issues, concerns, and suggestions they 
may have about this proposed action. Comments should be directly 
related to issues associated with the proposed action, rather than 
general advocacy of or opposition to the project, to best assist us in 
the NEPA analysis. Although comments are welcome at any time during 
this NEPA analysis, they will be most useful to us if they are received 
within 30 days following the publication of this notice.

Responsible Official

    The Forest Supervisor for the Kaibab National Forest of the 
Southwestern Region of the USDA Forest Service is the Responsible 
Official.

Nature of Decision To Be Made

    The decision to be made is what plan of operations to approve for 
exploration, including any requirements for surface resource 
protection. VANE Minerals, Inc. has a statutory right to explore for 
locatable minerals under the 1872 Mining Law.

Early Notice of Importance of Public Participation in Subsequent 
Environmental Review

    A draft environmental impact statement will be prepared for 
comment. The comment period on the draft environmental impact statement 
will be 45 days from the date the Environmental Protection Agency 
publishes the notice of availability in the Federal Register. The 
Forest Service believes, at this early state, it is important to give 
reviewers notice of several court rulings related to public 
participation in the environmental review process. First reviewers of 
draft environmental impact statements must structure their 
participation in the environmental review of the proposal so that it is 
meaningful and alerts an agency to the reviewer's position and 
contentions. Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Corp. v. NRDC, 435 U.S. 519, 
553 (1978). Also, environmental objections that could be raised at the 
draft environmental impact statement stage but that are not raised 
until after the completion of the final environmental impact statement 
may be waived or dismissed by the courts. City of Angoon v. Hodel, 803 
F.2d 1016, 1022 (9th Cir. 1986) and Wisconsin Heritages, Inc. v. 
Harris, 490 F. Supp. 1334, 1338 (E.D. Wis. 1980). Because of these 
court rulings, it is very important that those interested in this 
proposed action participate by the close of the 45-day comment period 
so that substantive comments and objections are made available to the 
Forest Service at a time when it can meaningfully consider them and 
respond to them in the final environmental impact statement.
    To assist the Forest Service in identifying and considering issues 
and concerns on the proposed action, comments on the draft 
environmental impact statement should be as specific as possible. It is 
also helpful if comments refer to specific pages or chapters of the 
draft statement. Comments may also address the adequacy of the draft 
environmental impact statement or the merits of the alternatives 
formulated and discussed in the statement. Reviewers may wish to refer 
to the Council on Environmental Quality Regulations for implementing 
the procedural provisions of the National Environmental Policy Act at 
40 CFR 1503.3 in addressing these points.
    Comments received, including the names and addresses of those who 
comment, will be considered part of the public record on this proposal 
and will be available for public inspection.

(Authority: 40 CFR 1501.7 and 1508.22; Forest Service Handbook 
1909.15, Section 21).

    Dated: October 2, 2008.
Michael P. Williams,
Forest Supervisor.
 [FR Doc. E8-23993 Filed 10-9-08; 8:45 am]
BILLING CODE 3410-11-M