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Forest Service recommends modifying uranium mining ban near Grand Canyon

Environmental groups are sounding the alarm about a new set of recommendations from the Forest Service that include revising the Obama administration’s 20-year ban on new uranium mining near the Grand Canyon.

The recommendations are in response to a March executive order issued by President Donald Trump requiring agencies to review all actions that potentially burden the development of domestic energy resources. The order notes that agencies should pay particular attention to oil, natural gas, coal, and nuclear energy resources.

The proposal to revise the Grand Canyon-area mineral withdrawal is among 15 actions the Forest Service put forth in response to Trump’s executive order.

The recommendations are prioritized, and lifting or modifying the ban on issuing new mining leases is listed as 10th out of 11 priority levels.

The ban, issued by then-Interior Secretary Ken Salazar in 2012, covers more than 1 million acres of national forest and Bureau of Land Management land. In its response to Trump’s executive order, however, the BLM made no mention of revising the mining ban.

Environmental groups say the Trump administration’s move goes against strong public support for protecting the landscape around Grand Canyon National Park and puts the area’s lands, waters and wildlife at risk of adverse impacts from mining.

They had been expecting such a move by the Trump Administration, said Amber Reimondo, the Grand Canyon Trust’s energy program director.

“From the moment that the 2016 election was over with, the Trust was anticipating that with an administration sympathetic to industrial development we were going to see some kind of attack on the withdrawal. It was just a matter of when and how,” Reimondo said.

In its own analysis, the Forest Service noted that reversing the mineral withdrawal could mean additional costs to reexamine mineral data, evaluate potential withdrawal boundary changes and complete the environmental analysis and public notice requirements for such a decision.

That suggests the agency itself recognizes it would have to go through the same type of environmental review process to modify or overturn the mining ban as it did for implementing it, said Allison Melton, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity.

The agency proposed a three-year timeline for revising the mining withdrawal. It also stated that under the 1872 Mining Law, minerals extracted from public lands do not generate revenue for the United States Treasury.

Melton and Reimondo criticized the fact that the Forest Service’s analysis doesn’t mention the potential costs of uranium mining that could be born by the region’s tribes and potential impacts on natural resources and other areas of the economy, such as tourism.

“Uranium mining has a sorry history in the Southwest and aside from polluting water and the landscape, which is a cost to the public, it's also not uncommon for a mining company to file bankruptcy and leave the job and expense of cleanup to regulatory agencies and ultimately the taxpayers,” Reimondo wrote in a follow up email.

Environmental groups said they are ready to respond to any movement by the Trump Administration to modify or roll back the mining ban.

“We’re obviously going to engage fully in every capacity we can to keep this mineral withdrawal intact,” Melton said.

Federal scientists who were assigned to study the potential impacts of uranium mining near the Grand Canyon after Salazar’s 2012 decision are still far from any conclusions.

In a recent progress report, the U.S. Geological Survey said data gaps still exist when it comes to potential mining impacts to water quality of groundwater, springs, and seeps, and subsequent impacts to humans and wildlife as well as potential mining impacts to cultural and tribal resources.

Arizona Snowbowl: Lots of construction, not much snow yet

Construction work is happening in all directions at the base of Arizona Snowbowl.

To the north of Hart Prairie Lodge, a new Hart Prairie Lift is going up.

To the east, it’s the construction of a new pedestrian overpass.

To the south, foundation is being laid for a temporary restaurant.

And to the west, a lower parking lot is taking shape that will serve a future snowplay area.

But eight days before the ski mountain’s previously announced opening date of Nov. 10, one crucial element is in short supply: snow.

The mountain has received only a few dustings of natural snow at the upper elevations and Snowbowl has only been able to make snow during four or five nights this fall, Snowbowl General Manager J.R. Murray said on Wednesday.

Right now, manmade snow covers about five of the 20 acres that need to be covered with the white stuff for skiers to make it down one run, Murray said.

Jake Bacon, Arizona Daily Sun 

Construction workers work on the foundation and utilities of a new restaurant near Sunset Lift at the base of Arizona Snowbowl. The restaurant's temporary structure will have an aluminum frame with a vinyl cover.

That doesn’t mean Snowbowl still won’t open Nov. 10 with at least one run as originally planned, he said. If the resort gets four or five days that are cold and dry enough, the resort’s 40 snowguns could make enough snow to have one run skiable by next Friday, he said.

The goal is an 18-inch base, Murray said.

If the weather doesn’t cooperate, he said Snowbowl will aim to open Nov. 17 and the resort will likely make that call by Monday.

In the meantime, Snowbowl has its plate full with construction and improvement projects that began this summer.

The project that involves moving the most dirt is a pedestrian overpass that will connect Hart Prairie Lodge with the Sunset and Grand Canyon Express chairlifts. The road to Agassiz Lodge will go under the pedestrian walkway, removing the need for skiers and snowboarders use a crosswalk to get from lodge to lifts.

An artist's rendering of the pedestrian bridge under construction at Arizona Snowbowl, with Hart Prairie Lodge at left.

That project is slated to be finished by Thanksgiving or Dec. 1, Murray said. Until then, skiers will be rerouted around the construction zone to get to the Hart Prairie lodge or the open lower-mountain lifts.

Dirt excavated from the overpass is going to two other projects that are also underway. One is a 300-seat restaurant housed in a temporary vinyl-covered structure near Sunset Lift. The restaurant will have bathrooms and a patio and will put the mountain’s total dining capacity at 700 seats. Murray said Snowbowl may or may not turn the temporary structure into a permanent restaurant.

He called the current arrangement an emergency solution to address rising demand for dining and indoor seating that has outgrown Hart Prairie and Agassiz lodges. The restaurant will be open by Christmas, Murray said.

Downhill from Snowbowl’s base area and parking lots, the resort is constructing another parking lot meant to serve a future snowplay and tubing area that Murray said Snowbowl could begin working on this year.

The lot can have up to 400 spaces and, according to the Forest Service, is for exclusive use by tubing customers. Murray said he doesn’t know when the parking lot will be finished.

Jake Bacon, Arizona Daily Sun 

Towers for the new Hart Prairie quad lift are strung with cable at the Arizona Snowbowl Wednesday afternoon. The lift is expected to be finished in the next 10 days, said J.R. Murray, resort general manager. 

In a 2005 environmental analysis, the Forest Service approved the eventual construction of a tubing/snowplay area that covers up to eight acres with six to eight tubing lanes, up to four surface lifts and a capacity of approximately 600 snowplayers at a time. Murray said the tubing area will likely cover only four to five acres and will be served by conveyor belts to bring tubers back up the hill. It will have hours that are offset from the ski resort’s to control traffic flow, he said.

The tubing area is unlikely to open this winter considering the many other projects the resort is trying to complete before the end of the year, Murray said.

As part of a larger effort to improve offerings for beginner skiers and snowboarders, Snowbowl’s other major project involves installing a new lift that replaces the old double-seater Hart Prairie Chairlift. The new quad chairlift will feature a slow-moving loading conveyor and has three times the capacity of its predecessor. It will be finished within the next 10 days and open by Thanksgiving, Murray said.

Jake Bacon, Arizona Daily Sun 

Arizona Snowbowl general manager J.R. Murray talks about various construction projects at the ski area Wednesday afternoon. In the background, work progresses on a new pedestrian overpass that will connect Hart Prairie Lodge with the Sunset and Grand Canyon Express lifts. 

It’s the third new lift the resort has installed in three consecutive years.

All of the projects underway at Snowbowl have been approved by the Forest Service in connection with an environmental impact analysis the agency completed in 2005 for Snowbowl’s future improvement and expansion plans.

In an effort to manage wintertime traffic this upcoming season, Snowbowl is planning to continue its partnership with NAIPTA to provide bus service to the mountain and will be promoting and incentivizing carpooling, Murray said. Snowbowl is also in the midst of hiring seasonal employees, with 300 hired and about 200 more to go, he said. It is holding a job fair this Friday for applicants.

Jobs are just one means by which Snowbowl provides a significant boost to the city of Flagstaff, said Stuart McDaniel, vice president of government affairs with the Greater Flagstaff Chamber of Commerce.

Jake Bacon, Arizona Daily Sun 

A solitary patch of snow sits in front of a snow gun Wednesday afternoon at the Arizona Snowbowl. Unseasonably warm weather has prevented sufficient snowmaking so far.

A recent survey showed the resort is responsible for about $36 million per year in jobs, taxes and tourism impacts, McDaniel said. It makes sense that number would increase if Snowbowl pushes its opening date earlier in the year, he said. Snowbowl itself is seeing positive numbers in season pass sales this year, which are up 25 percent over last year, Murray said.

And if looking ahead to the winter season isn’t enough, Murray said Snowbowl is beginning a planning process to provide lift-served mountain biking for seasons when snow isn’t on the ground.

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Sean Brady sister, ex-girlfriend say shootout with Flagstaff police out of character

Both the sister and ex-girlfriend of a man killed by police after a shootout in a Flagstaff Walmart parking lot on Oct. 12 described the circumstances of his death as unbelievable and out of character.

Sean D. Brady, 29, was shot and killed by police after a noise dispute in a parking lot on East Huntington Drive resulted in Brady firing his handgun at police. The responding officers shot and killed Brady in the ensuing firefight.

Brady’s sister, Sheri Brady-Parent, expressed shock and dismay at the fact that her brother would fire his weapon at law enforcement officers.

Brady-Parent did not agree to an extensive interview about her brother but said that the man who shot at police was not the brother she grew up with.

“That was not Sean,” Brady-Parent wrote to the Arizona Daily Sun.

Brady’s ex-girlfriend, Laura Ashley Blaylock, said she was still in shock two weeks after her mother told her Brady was dead.

“I still can’t believe it. It is not like him,” Blaylock said. “He was so sweet, kind and gentle. I just don’t understand why this would happen -- he was never violent. I never even heard him raise his voice while we were dating.”

Brady’s non-existent criminal record seems to back up Blaylock’s account of him.

No criminal records were found in Arizona regarding Brady. There was also no criminal record of Brady in Lodi, Calif., where Brady once lived, according to San Joaquin County court records.

He was living in Flagstaff with his sister at the time of his death, according to Blaylock.

Blaylock also had an explanation for the two rifles, handgun and boxes of ammunition found in Brady’s truck after the shooting.

“He loved to shoot and was out shooting earlier that day,” Blaylock said a mutual friend told her.

Blaylock described Brady as a “mellow guy” and “dedicated father” who never griped about anything.

“He never complained about much and did everything he could to take care of his son,” Blaylock said. “His boy was his entire world so I don’t understand why he would do this.”

Brady was working at a winery in Lodi the last time Blaylock saw him.

Blaylock speculated that the anniversary of his father’s death, which occurred a few days before the shootout, may have negatively affected Brady.

“His dad died a few years back and that was always a difficult time for him,” Blaylock said. “But I still can’t believe that would be a reason for him to shoot at police.”

The three officers involved in the shooting, Pat Condon, Dustin Hemp and Ryan Sherif, have been placed on administrative leave following the shooting in accordance with Flagstaff Police protocol. No officers were hurt in the shootout with Brady. One of the officers involved was in field training with one of the other officers. The other two have been with the department for "many years," Runge said.

The Multi-Agency Officer-Involved Shooting Team was called to investigate the shooting, and the Coconino County Sheriff’s Office has been identified as the lead agency in the investigation.

Coconino County Sheriff’s Spokeswoman Erika Wiltenmuth said her department was not releasing any reports pertaining to the investigation of the shooting until the Coconino County Attorney’s Office makes a determination on charging any of the officers involved.