Several hearings were held before the CDPHE last year in its review of the radioactive materials license application for the mill, and it remains apparent that building the nation’s first uranium mill in 30 years in western Colorado continues to divide citizens in and around the proposed mill site.
At a January public hearing in Montrose, mill advocates spoke largely about economic development and the need for jobs in the West End of Montrose County. Energy Fuels, a Canadian-based company proposing the project, has said that the mill would create up to 85 new jobs averaging $40,000 to $75,000 a year plus benefits, 80 percent of which would come from the local population, in addition to supporting 200 ancillary mining and trucking jobs at nearby mines, and generating tax revenues for public services and infrastructure.
Opponents continued to site the environmental and health effects the mill would have on the people living near the mill. The dust storms that have hit Montrose in recent years were mentioned by several people at a hearing, including Montrose resident Virginia Sowell, who voiced fears future dust from the mill could be radioactive. “We’ve had so much dust the last four years, and the mill is right in the path,” she said.
Proponents of the mill have often criticized those opposed for being overly emotional and judgmental, because they don’t live in Paradox but in neighboring communities.
That criticism may have lost some of its sting in June when scientists hired by the environmental group Sheep Mountain Alliance presented their findings during two public meetings held in Telluride and Ophir. “Our biggest concern is that they will generate toxic waste, not control it properly and then leave it to taxpayers to clean up,” the report said. “That is a recurrent problem in this industry.”
The last uranium mill in the area, in Uravan, was only recently cleaned up by the Environmental Protection Agency, following 20 years of work and a cost of $120 million, with the removal of 13 million cubic yards of contaminants and treatment of 380 million gallons of liquid. In October, Energy Fuels announced that it had obtained the consulting services of nuclear industry veteran Richard Cherry, president and CEO of the Cotter Corp. from 2000 to 2006, to support the company’s “consolidation strategy in the western USA and product marketing effort.”
Cotter is an affiliate of General Atomics, whose CEO is former Telluride Valley Floor owner Neal Blue. The Piñon Ridge was The Watch’s top story in 2009 and moved down to number three in 2010. The CDPHE must make a decision on whether to grant the mill a state permit by Jan. 17, 2011. That decision and its aftermath will almost certainly make the top ten stories of 2011 as well.