Report criticizes proposed uranium mill

Hundreds of residents from Nucla, Naturita and the Paradox Valley filled the Nucla High School gymnasium in May 2009, both in support and opposition of the construction of a uranium mill in the area.

MONTROSE COUNTY — The proposed Pi&#241on Ridge uranium mill that would be built in the Paradox Valley of western Montrose County drew sharp criticism from a socioeconomic report released last week by a Montana consulting firm.

The report, commissioned by Telluride-based citizens group Sheep Mountain Alliance, criticizes the economic and environmental impacts of the mill, which would process uranium ore.

The report said estimated employment numbers for the mill are exaggerated, and possible contamination by hazardous waste produced at the mill is a concern.

The report claims the mill’s operations would affect communities in Montrose, Mesa and San Miguel counties.

Tom Power of Power Consulting of Missoula, Mont., said Thursday that the employment numbers produced by the uranium company, Energy Fuels, and numbers produced by Montrose County officials, are grossly overexaggerated and could have been done so intentionally to draw large support for the project.

Power said Energy Fuels concluded through its own research the mill would create around 315 “well-paying jobs.”

A separate analysis commissioned by Montrose County estimated 516 to 649 new jobs would be created directly or indirectly by the mill and its associated mines.

Meanwhile, the Power Consulting report found the mill likely would generate about 116 jobs in the county’s West End, “or between 35 to 80 percent fewer jobs than predicted by the mining company and the county.”

Power dismissed Energy Fuels’ claim that the proposed mill and associated mines would operate for 40 to 50 years, saying that never has happened in the West End’s history and never will happen.

Power added, “People’s reactions to living near and around radioactive waste is quite different than people living near an iron ore facility in Minnesota. People are more worried, and this is significant.”

The report said the large volume of milling will bring large volumes of waste that “would be stored at the site forever,” and that could pose a huge risk for local residents and potentially could destroy the local economy.

Sheep Mountain Alliance’s Executive Director Hilary White said her group commissioned the report because the environmental and socioeconomic impacts deserved such scrutiny.

She added Energy Fuels admitted it doesn’t have enough money to run through the end of next year.

As a result, it is trying to create an asset and get the permit, then put the company up for sale and leave construction and operation to whoever buys it, she said.

Calls to Energy Fuels were not returned Thursday.

The Sheep Mountain Alliance submitted a separate report by Boulder-based Stratus Consulting to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment on Dec. 16, citing serious questions about the mill’s wastewater management, water usage and worst-case scenario plans.

The report was commissioned by the alliance.

The Stratus report said there wasn’t enough water consumption allotted in the company’s plans to operate the mill.

It said Energy Fuels needs to reassess its water-resource plans.

The Stratus report concluded that if the mill were operational for 40 years, cleanup costs could run nearly $390 million.

In the summer of 2009, Energy Fuels conducted a series of public meetings designed to educate residents about the company’s plans.

One meeting in Nucla in May 2009 drew hundreds of supporters expressing the area’s desperate need for jobs.

During public comment, some residents spoke about their rights to make the decision to risk their lives and health in the world of radioactivity in order to bring jobs to the area.

In the months after the public meetings, the Montrose County planning commission approved the proposal.

“The danger this mill poses to our air, water, and sustainable and important regional economic resources has become more and more clear, and these threats are not worth even the overstated benefits touted by Energy Fuels,” White said.


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