County Commissioners Want ‘Veil of Secrecy’ Removed for Uranium Mining
by Douglas McDaniel
Feb 10, 2008 | 325 views | 0 0 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print
TELLURIDE – How much do West End residents really know about uranium mining operations in their community, and with that knowledge in hand, how much control to does the local citizenry have to ensure the environmental health of their own backyards?

Based on the mutual understanding that there’s not near enough disclosure by the nuclear industry indicating what’s coming down the pike regarding uranium leases and mining operations, the San Miguel County Commissioners on Tuesday, Feb. 6, discussed a draft letter to support two bills to be introduced next week in the state legislature in Denver.

“We need to have as much local control as possible,” Hilary White, executive director of Sheep Mountain Alliance, told the commissioners during their regular session in the Miramonte Building this week.

The lack of notification about ongoing uranium mining in the region is an issue for the commissioners.

“I’d like to find out how the [Department of Energy] notifies communities about its mining claims,” said Commissioner Elaine Fischer. Added Commissioner Art Goodtimes, “The county is notified about leasing for the BLM, notifying us that there are leases, but they don’t notify us about where the leases are.”

If there’s a gap about disclosure of operations among elected officials privy to the assortment of ways county governments are notified, Fischer said, imagine the information blackout experienced by those who live adjacent to such operations.

For example, Fischer said, “I’d much like to have a bigger picture of what mines are being reactivated.”

According to the two draft letters of support to the legislature being sent by the commissioners across the mountains to Denver involve H.B. 08-1161, which is intended to protect the water quality of local communities from potential radioactive and toxic pollution of uranium mining, and, H.B. 08-1165, which is more directed at uranium mining practices that the bill sponsors have deemed to be unsafe.

“Both of these bills are going to be heard in committee next week,” White said, adding that she realizes the supporters for either bill face heavy challenges from the mining lobby. “It’s an uphill battle, as it always is for regulating this industry.”

The draft of the first letter in support of H.B. 08-1165 starts out with a severe case, as example, of what can happen when the uranium genie gets out of the bottle. Pointing to the Summitville mining disaster of 1992, in which the release of cyanide and a toxic cocktail of other chemicals devastated 17 miles of the Alamosa River, the letter states, “We cannot afford to let another Summitville disaster happen again. Local governments in Colorado deserve the right to decide what types of industrial mining operations are appropriate for the communities.”

But the mining lobby, according to the letter, is thwarting such goals.

“An ongoing lawsuit by the Colorado Mining Association,” the letter states, “threatens to strip the authority for counties to decide whether to allow mining operations that use or disturb toxic and acidic chemicals and for cities to pass local ordinances to protect their watersheds. The General Assembly should unequivocally reaffirm local control and the ability for communities to decide how and where potentially polluting mining operations may operate.”

The commissioners’ letter underlines the perception that a “veil of secrecy” surrounds mining exploration. In Colorado, where mining operations frequently neighbor landowners, agricultural endeavors and the groundwater serving their needs, “no other state provides so much secrecy for the mining activities and so little protection for communities.”

So H.B. 08-1165 is a call for disclosure because, as the letter states, “Coloradans deserve the right-to-know about mine drilling and exploration that could threaten their property and ground water, while protecting truly proprietary information, such as drill and well log data.”

The other bill, H.B. 08-1161, highlights the dangers of injection or “in-situ leach” projects, such as that proposed in Weld County by Powertech Uranium Corp., which the letter states intentionally contaminates aquifers with chemicals designed to force or leach out uranium from the underground, forcing the uranium to the surface. Such mines on Colorado’s eastern plains, as well as mines in Wyoming, Nebraska and Texas have demonstrated that such operations “regularly leak contaminants to adjacent aquifers and fail to restore contaminated ground water supplies.”

The commissioners’ letter, calls for an adherence to standard human health and environmental protections enacted 35 years ago after the Summitville disaster, decrying current activities by the mining industry that argue an exemption from such requirements as long as they prevent leaching acid water from a site.

“This exemption would leave out mines that cause serious public health and environmental impacts, including radioactive and heavy metal contamination to the groundwater and air, but not acid drainage,” the letter states. “If foreign mining companies (Powertech Uranium Corp. is based in Canada) want to revive Colorado’s checkered uranium mining industry, they must commit to ‘doing it right’ this time.”

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