WESTERN SAN JUANS – Last week, District Judge Steven Patrick dismissed Energy Fuels, Inc.’s filing for water rights on the San Miguel River without prejudice, leaving the door open for the Canadian mining company to file for the water rights in the future.
The Telluride based environmental group, Sheep Mountain Alliance, is hailing the decision as a victory for opponents of the proposed Piñon Ridge Uranium Mill, which is slated to be built in the West End of Montrose County. An Energy Fuels spokesman, however, said Patrick’s decision is one that the company had asked for.
According to Energy Fuels spokesman Curtis Moore, during its planning process for the uranium mill back in 2010, the company filed for San Miguel River water rights that could be used to supplement the well water rights it already had in order to operate the mill, or to use the water for future mill expansion. As the company went through multiple approval processes with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, it decided that it would not need the water rights it had filed for.
“It was becoming increasingly clear that we were not going to use that water, so we asked that the judge dismiss the water rights application,” Moore said.
Last week, Patrick did just that.
As an opposing party to the water rights filing, Sheep Mountain Alliance filed to dismiss the water rights application with prejudice, barring Energy Fuels from filing for the same water rights in the future. Patrick disagreed with that request and ultimately dismissed the filing without prejudice.
"Although we felt that Energy Fuels' failure to proceed with this case was strong justification for a ‘with prejudice’ motion, we are very pleased that this case has been dismissed,” said SMA Executive Director Hilary Cooper. “The failure of Energy Fuels to act in this case for water they absolutely need, in order to operate the proposed Piñon Ridge Mill, clearly indicates the lack of intent to follow through on the construction of the uranium mill.”
Moore countered Cooper’s claim that Energy Fuels doesn't intend to build the mill.
“That’s absolutely not true,” he said. “If that were the case, why would we continue to invest so much in this project? If that were the case, we would have walked away from all these lawsuits a long time ago. We have our main water rights in wells and those, we believe, will provide most, if not all the water we need to operate the mill at 500 tons per day.”
A CDPHE public comment period is open until Sept. 13 regarding Energy Fuels’ proposed construction plan and decommissioning-funding plan for the mill. If it is built, the mill will be the first uranium processing mill constructed in the U.S. in 30 years. Completion of the mill and its commissioning is expected early 2017.