The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment has determined that an application for a radioactive materials license it received from a corporation hoping to build a uranium mill in Paradox Valley is complete, the agency announced on Friday.
The determination brings Energy Fuels Resources Corp., a wholly owned subsidiary of the Toronto-based Energy Fuels Inc., one step closer to realizing its goal of building the nation’s first uranium mill in nearly three decades – its proposed Piñon Ridge Mill – about 12 miles west of Naturita and seven miles east of Bedrock along State Highway 90.
The finding, which the CDPHE was required to make within 30 days of receiving the application from Energy Fuels on Nov. 18, triggers the next step in the review process – a comprehensive technical adequacy review of the application – which will take between 12 and 14 months.
While the application was determined to be complete, the agency has already notified Energy Fuels that it will be requesting additional information throughout the process as it moves ahead.
In particular, it has already identified soil, borrow material and foundation design as areas where it would like further information. Borrow material is soil that is excavated from the site and reused for construction there.
“We expect to be asking for further clarification throughout the process,” said CDPHE Community Involvement Manager Warren Smith. “This is expected.”
Yet while the state determined that the application is complete, at least two organizations that oppose the mill believe otherwise.
In a 16-page joint letter addressed to the CDPHE and dated a few days before the completeness review deadline, local conservation organization Sheep Mountain Alliance and the Paradox Valley Sustainability Association asked the agency to conclude that the application, which they alleged failed to address “the serious direct, indirect and cumulative impacts posed by a uranium mill,” contained insufficient information and analysis to trigger the technical review period.
“After taking the time to point out several deficiencies in the 'completeness of the application' we are of course disappointed in this decision,” said Sheep Mountain Alliance Director Hilary White in an email.
“There is no indication of a serious attempt by the state to address modern standards for this review. The proposed development of not only the mill site but also of mines all along the Dolores River will have a serious impact on the economy, human health and environment of this very special region of Colorado and we are very concerned that it appears that the state feels it is their responsibility to provide for the company over the well being of the residents and environment of the region.”
When asked about the numerous deficiencies alleged in the SMA/PVSA letter Miller said that his agency did not receive the letter until he obtained a copy from a reporter on Friday.
“I have passed it along,” to the appropriate people, he said. “We will review it and share it with the technical staff.”
Nevertheless, the contents of the letter won’t change the outcome of the completeness decision on the application.
“The determination has been made,” said Miller.
By law, Energy Fuels must hold a first public meeting within 45 days of the completeness determination and a second public meeting within 30 days of the first.
The first meeting has been scheduled for 6 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 21, at Nucla High School.
The second public meeting has been tentatively scheduled on Wednesday, Feb. 17, at the Montrose Pavilion. The meeting time has not yet been determined.
In the meantime, the Montrose Board of County Commissioners, which in September unanimously approved a special permit allowing the construction and operation of the Piñon Ridge Mill on 880 acres in Paradox Valley zoned for agricultural use, has 90 days from the first public meeting to submit its review of the environmental report included with the application.
The CDPHE must approve or deny the application within 270 days after receipt of the BOCC’s comments, or within 360 days after the second public meeting, if the BOCC does not respond.
Energy Fuels must receive a radioactive materials license from the state before it can construct the mill.
A call to Energy Fuels CEO George Glasier was not immediately returned.
Documents related to the Energy Fuels Piñon Ridge Mill are available at www.cdphe.state.co.us/hm/rad/rml/energyfuels/index.htm and at the Nucla Public Library at 544 Main Street in Nucla, 970/864-2166, and Montrose County Planning and Development at 317 S. Second St. in Montrose, 970/249-6688.
Public comment on the application will be taken at public meetings, via email at email@example.com or by writing to Steve Tarlton or Warren Smith at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment Radiation Program, 4300 Cherry Creek Dr. So., Denver, CO 80246-1530.