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Media Contact:

Zion White, Quechan Tribal Council, (928) 919-6468       

Brendan McLaughlin, Earthworks, bmclaughlin@earthworksaction.org, (206) 892-8832

Gail Overton, raoverton@yahoo.com, (603) 305-4756

Faron Owl, owl.rez19@gmail.com, (928) 210-0114

Hallie Kutak, Center for Biological Diversity, hkutak@biologicaldiversity.org, (510) 844-7117

EL CENTRO, Calif. In a victory for the Fort Yuma Quechan Tribe and their conservation and environmental justice allies, the Imperial County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday rejected the SMP Gold Corp. Oro Cruz exploration project.

The project threatened to irreversibly damage a cultural landscape held sacred by the Quechan Tribe near the Colorado River, now proposed for permanent protection as part of the Kw’tsán National Monument. The mineral exploration project would have disturbed 20.54 acres of desert ecosystem, built 8 miles of roads, drilled 65 holes down to 800 feet, and used 2,000 gallons of water per day. 

Although approved by the Bureau of Land Management in 2023, the project still needs Imperial County approvals under California’s Surface Mining and Reclamation Act and California Environmental Quality Act. Both the Quechan Tribe and a coalition of conservation organizations appealed a January decision by the Imperial County Planning Commission to greenlight the project.

On March 19, after a public hearing with multiple hours of public testimony by tribal members and Imperial County residents, the County Board of Supervisors voted 3-1 to grant both appeals and deny the project. SMP Gold Corp. must now re-start its state-level environmental review process.

“The preservation of our sacred sites is important to the Quechan people to continue our religious and traditional practices, and cultural teachings for future generations of Quechan children,” said Faron Owl, Quechan elder and founder of Xuumar Akuts. “I encourage people to continue to get involved to protect our environment from the impacts of gold mining.”

“I am extremely grateful to the Imperial County Board of Supervisors for listening to the voices of the Quechan people and local residents by rejecting the Oro Cruz gold exploration project,” said Gail Overton, Imperial County resident who lives less than two miles from the project site. “Most importantly, I respect their desire to protect all of the native plants and animals that make the Cargo Muchacho Mountains a landscape worthy of designation as a critical part of the proposed Kw’tsán National Monument.”

“I’m relieved by the county’s decision to give desert tortoises and other wildlife a reprieve from this mining exploration, which threatens these species and this fragile ecosystem,” said Hallie Kutak, a staff attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Thankfully the supervisors understood that this project was ill-conceived and poorly analyzed, and we’ll keep fighting until it’s gone for good. This is a good reminder that California’s environmental protections are critical to helping us make smarter land-use decisions and avoid irresponsible projects.”

“This victory for the Quechan people and Imperial County sends a resounding message that land, air, water, and culture are more valuable than gold,” said Jared Naimark, California Organizer with Earthworks. “Thank you to the Board of Supervisors for recognizing the clear flaws in the Oro Cruz project, and choosing to protect this important landscape for future generations.”

“The Quechan Tribal Council is elated by the decision of the Imperial County Board of Supervisors on March 19th to accept the appeals of both parties to stop SMP’s proposal based on the merit of both parties identifying the flawed materials presented,” said Quechan Tribal Council member Zion White.  “The Quechan Tribe has continuously opposed potential threats of desecration to our ancestral territories and this decision is another win for not only the tribe, but all of those who support environmental quality standards. The Quechan Tribal Council gives thanks to every individual Tribal member, Imperial Valley community members, and the organizations who supported this effort.” 

The conservation organization appeal was submitted by Center for Biological Diversity, Western Watersheds Project, Earthworks, the Sierra Club California/Nevada Desert Committee, Conservation Lands Foundation, Greenaction for Health and Environmental Justice, California Native Plant Society, Yuma Audubon Society, the Ahmut Pipa Foundation, Xuumar Akuts, and the Native American Lands Conservancy.