Ritter says he’ll oppose mercury on West Slope

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Gov. Bill Ritter will oppose any federal effort to store mercury in Mesa County, drawing a harder line than state health officials had in telling their federal counterparts earlier this week they had a “high burden” of showing that the project could move forward.

“Colorado’s Western Slope is no place for the federal government to deposit thousands of tons of mercury,” Ritter said in a statement issued Thursday. “The risks to ground and surface water are too great. The risks to our air quality are too great.

The risks of transporting elemental mercury over long distances and on routes that run adjacent to or cross major water sources, such as the Colorado River, are too great.”

Ritter’s announcement was a disappointment, said Ray Plieness, director of the Office of Site Operations within the Energy Department’s Office of Legacy Management.

“This could certainly put into question whether that could even happen,” Plieness said, stressing the federal agency has a long history of “extremely good relations” working with the state in Mesa County and at 10 other sites in Colorado.

Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment Executive Director Jim Martin wrote in a letter earlier this week that the project would be viewed with great skepticism, but not rejected out of hand.

The U.S. Department of Energy is seeking a place to store mercury in the United States and is looking at seven potential sites, including the Grand Junction Disposal Site near Whitewater.

“This dangerous and harmful material should be stored in close proximity to where it is generated, rather than dumping it on the Western Slope,” Ritter said.


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