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Tribe battles BLM in U.S. court over Nevada gold mine

RENO — Lawyers for environmentalists and several Nevada tribes urged a federal judge Thursday to keep in place restrictions from a 2009 court order that blocks the expansion of a gold mine at the base of a mountain that some Western Shoshone consider sacred.

Toronto-based Barrick Gold Corp.’s proposed expansion would make the mine at Mount Tenabo, about 250 miles east of Reno, one of the biggest open pits in North America.

Lawyers for Barrick Gold and Justice Department attorneys representing the U.S. Bureau of Land Management asked Judge Larry Hicks to lift a partial injunction and clear the way for the digging of the 2,000-foot pit.

The BLM has corrected deficiencies in its formal analysis of potential environmental impacts, the attorneys told Hicks.

But opponents said the BLM’s supplemental environmental impact statement is no better than previous assessments that the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals twice has found insufficient.

“This is obviously a very sensitive case,” Hicks said . “The court is aware of the sensitivity.”

The appellate court in San Francisco ruled most recently in 2010 that the BLM had failed to analyze adequately the potential for the project to pollute the air and dry up scarce water resources in northeast Nevada’s high desert.

About a dozen tribe members and supporters — some with signs that read “Water is more precious than gold” — gathered in front of the federal courthouse before the hearing in Reno for a “water honoring ceremony” and prayer.

“We have great concerns when large corporations and the federal government can trample our natural resources,” said Bryan Cassadore, chairman of the Te-Moak Tribe of Western Shoshone.

Justice Department lawyers said BLM’s new analysis complies with all state and federal environmental laws.

“BLM very thoroughly analyzed the project’s potential effects on Native American beliefs and cultural practices,” wrote Ty Bair, a lawyer in the department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division.

But lawyers for the tribes and the Reno-based Great Basin Resource Watch said the mining plans offer no specific protections for the environment, only a detailed schedule of monitoring intended to detect any potential pollution of groundwater .

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