Suit filed to block Pinon Ridge uranium mill project

An environmental organization based in Telluride is asking a state court in Denver to halt a proposed uranium mill in Montrose County.

The Sheep Mountain Alliance said state regulators failed to act quickly enough on a permit.

The company backing the mill said it is reviewing the permit, as entitled to by regulators, and said the lawsuit is premature.

“We don’t even have a final licensing decision,” said Steve Antony, president and chief executive officer of Energy Fuels. “There’s not much we can say at this time until we see the official complaint against the state.”

The mill would be operated by Energy Fuels Resources of Lakewood, a wholly owned subsidiary of Energy Fuels, which is a Toronto company.

The alliance filed suit Friday, the same day a state judge in Montrose approved the county’s issuance of a special permit for the Piñon Ridge uranium mill in an agricultural zone in the county’s West End.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment ran afoul of the federal Atomic Energy Act, the alliance said.

No comment was immediately available Tuesday from the Colorado Attorney General’s Office, which represents the Health Department.

The state was required to act on the license within 270 days of when the environmental assessment was introduced, said Travis Stills of the Energy Minerals Law Center in Durango.

“They needed to issue the license by Jan. 17,” Stills said.

Federal law required a formal set of hearings in which opponents of the mill could test the application, Stills said.

“Promising to do so later doesn’t satisfy the legal requirement that (the process) had to be done by Jan. 17,” Stills said.

The company is in the middle of a 60-day review period in which it is considering whether to appeal any parts of the permit. After that review period, which expires March 5, opponents have a 30-day review period.

Although the Health Department is the defendant in the lawsuit, Energy Fuels Resources is a party in the case.

In addition to questioning the process of handling the application, the lawsuit says the requirement that the company put up an $11 million bond to cover future cleanup and decommissioning is insufficient. Cleanup at other mills has cost between $50 million and $500 million, the lawsuit says.

The alliance “exhausted all remedies before we decided to file this lawsuit,”  Linda Miller, a member of the alliance board of directors, said in a statement. “We participated in the approval process, but our concerns were not addressed. We’re disappointed that the state did not issue a decision that would have protected the public interest, and we must now rely on the district court to uphold the law.”

Energy Fuels Resources is planning to spend as much as $150 million to build the mill near Naturita. It would begin processing 500 tons of ore per day and could expand to producing 1,000 tons per day. The company is now seeking funding for construction of the project.


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