Ritter, his 2 rivals in county unite against mercury

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The U.S. Energy Department’s proposal to store mercury in Mesa County has united Gov. Bill Ritter and two leading contenders for Ritter’s job.

In a letter he sent to Energy Secretary Steven Chu on Wednesday, Ritter described the proposal to dispose of the federal government’s stores of mercury as “deeply flawed.”

Two Grand Junction Republicans who want to take on Ritter in the November 2010 general election, Scott McInnis and Josh Penry, agreed.

The proposal to store mercury in Mesa County “has been met with a bipartisan thud,” Penry said. “I hope the Obama administration will pull the plug. We’re not interested in their mercury stimulus.”

McInnis, according to his spokesman, Sean Duffy, “looks forward to seeing the specific results that will come from (Ritter’s) letter. An equally aggressive approach to the continuing economic and jobs problems on the Western Slope would certainly be welcome.”

The search for a place to put the federal government’s stores of mercury was required by legislation sponsored last year by then-Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., and signed by President George W. Bush.

The proposed Grand Junction Disposal Site, 18 miles south of the city on land now used by the Energy Department for a uranium mill tailings disposal cell, is too close to a major water supply for the Southwest, Ritter said. Wherever officials place the mercury, it should be recognized that “any site designated for the long-term storage of a highly toxic material will actually become the disposal site for this material,” he wrote.

Colorado “simply could not countenance the disposal” of a large quantity of mercury “at a site not significantly removed” from the Gunnison River, Ritter wrote.

Any loss of mercury from the site and into the water supply “could be catastrophic,” he said.

Plans call for mercury to be stored in heavy steel flasks inside a building.

Ritter also questioned the ability to transport mercury cross-country. It would be impossible to transport large quantities of elemental mercury “from the eastern part of the country to western Colorado without crossing the Continental Divide and traversing major waterways innumerable times,” Ritter wrote.

“The inherent risks in transporting elemental mercury over this great distance are simply too insurmountable to warrant any further consideration of western Colorado as the final repository.”

Had it been known that the Grand Junction Disposal Site could have been used for mercury storage, state and federal officials would have taken a harder look at the site, he said.

Ritter joined Idaho Gov. Butch Otter in opposing mercury storage in their respective states. Officials in Missouri also have questioned plans for storing mercury there, and Nevada officials have voiced doubts about plans to put it in that state.


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