Warren Smith, head of the radiation control program for the Colorado Department of Health and the Environment, acted as moderator for a public hearing Tuesday night at the Montrose Pavilion regarding Energy Fuel’s request for a state permit to build the mill in Paradox Valley.
People in the audience were given three minutes to offer input to a three-man panel comprised of Steve Tarlton and Edgar Ethington from the Denver office of CDPHE, and Phil Egidi from the Grand Junction office.
Smith said another public input meeting was held Wednesday in Telluride and a meeting will be held in Naturita on July 13. He said the CDPHE must make a decision on whether to grant the mill a state permit by Jan. 17, 2011.
After hearing all the public input, the CDPHE will publish its decision along with explanations about the decision, Smith said.
“We can either deny, accept or accept with conditions,” he said.
About a dozen people got up to speak at the meeting, held at the Montrose Pavilion attended by about 60 people. It was a far cry from previous public meetings on the mill hosted by Montrose County last year that sometimes drew hundreds of people, many carrying signs either for or against the mill.
But at Tuesday night’s meeting, only one person, Dan Gallagher of Grand Junction, spoke in support of the mill.
“It would be wonderful,” he said. “Contractors are hurting in this downturn, and once it gets better it would be nice to have work. I think it could help western Colorado and all the counties involved.”
But others said they didn’t trust Energy Fuels to be prepared in case of a disaster, and several brought up the oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico as an example.
“Just like BP in the Gulf, Energy Fuels says nothing will happen,” said Marvin Ballantyne of Montrose.
Hilary White of Telluride, speaking for Sheep Mountain Alliance, criticized the CDPHE for not holding more public meetings and for the lack of independent analysis on the possible detrimental effects to air and water quality.
Energy Fuels doesn’t have the money to open the mill, and should have to prove to the state it’s not a “speculative company,” White said.
“The only mining work they’ve been doing is mining for investors,” she said.
The dust storms that have hit Montrose in recent years were mentioned by several people, 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.
Others at the meeting accused CDPHE of being cozy with Energy Fuels, and some criticized the county’s final report on the mill as containing no downside and not enough information. The county approved a special use permit for the mill last October.
Telluride resident Michael Saftler said that building the mill is “an ill conceived model,” especially since the price of uranium has dropped drastically the mill was first proposed two years ago.
Saftler also urged the panel to consider a report commissioned by the Ute Mountain Tribe, due out this fall that will give an analysis of the effects of the White Mesa mill in Utah on the environment.
“You should not consider it (the permit) without considering this report,” he said. “To not do so would be negligent.”
Janet Johnson of Grand Junction also complained that the CDPHE was not holding enough public meetings, suggesting that it should have more back-and-forth dialogue about the dangers of uranium mills.
“We need to look at the history of all uranium mills in the state,” she said. “They were all violators, and they all defaulted.”
Johnson said the state should pay for an outside company to do an analysis of uranium’s effects over the entire area.
“We are not an isolated entity, and people in that area have to live with the cumulative effects,” she said, citing a bill signed into law earlier in the day by Gov. Bill Ritter to force uranium mills to clean up existing contamination before launching new projects.
Stu Krebs of Montrose said, “There’s a good reason” why no new nuclear power plants have been built in decades.
“It’s an act of desperation, and it’s the same with oil drilling in the Gulf,” he said. “There are probably 10 other things we should do before building more nuclear power plants.”
Chances are good that the CDPHE panel will hear from more people who want the mill when it meets in Naturita, on the west end of the county. Uranium mining was big business in the county’s West End until a “bust” cycle began 30 years ago.
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.