Environment, jobs toxic mix at mill hearing
NUCLA — Residents of Telluride, Ridgway and Grand Junction, along with other opponents, on Monday urged an administrative judge to reject a proposed uranium mill in the Paradox Valley.
Resort-community critics, however, ought to look to solving their own problems first, a Nucla resident retorted in testimony before an administrative-law judge who will recommend whether the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment should issue a new permit for the mill proposed by Energy Fuels Inc.
The mill proposed on 880 acres south of Naturita could contaminate snow and drive skiers from Telluride and other parts of southwest Colorado that rely on the ski industry, several residents told Judge Richard Dana, who has conducted five days of hearings on the proposal and was to complete the hearing today.
“All it takes is a report to the world that we have irradiated dust” on ski-area snows to drive skiers away from place such as Telluride, Dana Ivers, a Telluride resident, told the judge.
The West End of Montrose County, however, serves as a landfill and sewage compost area for Telluride and the rest of San Miguel County, Nucla resident Bob Roberts told Dana.
“Why don’t we figure out a better way for you to get rid of your trash and your sewage other than dumping it on us?” Roberts rebuked critics of the mill.
The proposed mill has the support of 81 percent of residents of the Paradox Basin area, Dianna Reams, president of the Nucla-Naturita Chamber of Commerce, told Dana, citing a survey of businesses conducted in 2009 and adding that nothing has changed since.
The uranium mill is “one component” of an effort to bring new economic vitality to a part of Colorado that has been depressed for 30 years, Reams said.
The potential construction of the mill has him considering leaving for the first time, Telluride resident Michael Safler said, citing the record of costly cleanups and illnesses connected to previous booms in the uranium industry.
“As much as I’d like to sympathize with the economic needs of the West End, I just don’t see how we can afford to do this again,” Safler said.
Most of the opposition stems from residents who live outside a 50-mile radius from the mill, the area considered most likely to be affected by airborne particles from the mill.
Grand Junction residents also weighed in, with Betsy Bair of the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce touting the regional economic benefits of the mill.
“We estimate that there will be 1,000 new jobs for the West Slope if the Piñon Ridge mill is approved,” Bair told Dana.
The mill, however, poses a threat to water and air quality and to the quality of life in western Colorado, said Karen Sjoberg of Grand Junction.
“Only denial is in the interest of public safety,” Sjoberg said.
The Department of Public Health and Environment came under criticism from mill opponents, who told Dana they believed it worked too closely with Energy Fuels as the permitting process moved forward.
Under an agreement with the federal government, Colorado, and not a federal agency, issues radioactive materials-handling permits within the state.
If the Piñon Ridge mill is approved, it will be the first in three decades. The last mill approved in the United States is operating in Blanding, Utah, and is now owned by Energy Fuels.
The company hopes to use the Piñon Ridge mill to process ore from Colorado, and the White Mesa mill in Blanding to handle ores from Utah and Arizona.
The Health Department is to decide by next year whether to issue a new permit to Energy Fuels, after Dana issues a recommendation.