State’s previous approval voided as unlawful
By Summit Voice
SUMMIT COUNTY — Residents of southwest Colorado will have their chance to scrutinize plans for the proposed Piñon Ridge uranium mill in the Paradox Valley later this year at a court-ordered hearing in Montrose County.
The new hearing was scheduled after Denver District Court Judge John McMullen ruled in June that the state’s previous review process was unlawful. Conservation groups and community activists and towns in the area have repeatedly expressed concerns about potential impacts to air and water quality from the proposed mill.
McMullen found that the state had denied the public its right to a formal, adjudicatory hearing and ordered the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to start a new public review process.
“We are pleased that the public will finally get a formal chance to scrutinize this proposal,” said Hilary White, executive director of Sheep Mountain Alliance. “As a party in this hearing process, we will continue to ensure that the clean air and clean water of this region are protected.”
Sheep Mountain Alliance filed a lawsuit against the CDPHE in February, 2011, after it issued a license to Energy Fuels to construct the first uranium processing mill in the United States since 1980. The governments of the towns of Telluride and Ophir, Colo., joined the lawsuit as co-plaintiffs in October, 2011.
Following the court’s ruling, the parties in the lawsuit negotiated the terms of the formal hearing process, which will allow the public to provide oral or written comments and also allow other organizations and individuals to enter the proceedings more formally with the right to submit evidence and testimony and cross-examine witnesses.
The proceeding will be conducted by an independent hearing officer. Under the negotiated agreement, the state will be required to consider all new information before making a decision on whether to grant a new license to Energy Fuels. The final deadline for the licensing decision is April 27, 2013.
“This is an opportunity to speak up for strong stipulations on a project that threatens the long-term health of Montrose County’s economy and citizens,” said Marv Ballantyne, a Montrose resident and member of Uncompahgre Valley Association, a Western Colorado Congress affiliate. “We finally have an opportunity to ask the state for strong protections that are necessary for a radioactive processing facility. We are hopeful the independent judge will thoroughly consider clean water, taxpayer liability and long-term waste management in the final decision.”
“Judge McMullen’s invalidation of the license highlights the need for careful and searching review of the actions of Colorado’s radiation regulators.” said Travis Stills, attorney with the Energy & Conservation Law who brought the lawsuit on behalf of Sheep Mountain Alliance.
Stills and other activists allege that the relationship between the CDPHE and the uranium industry is too cozy.
“The administrative hearing conducted by an independent administrative law officer will provide the first real inquiry into Energy Fuels’ proposed mill and plan to dispose of the radioactive wastes,” he said.
West Slope residents and multiple conservation and social justice organizations have raised serious concerns about the proposed mill, which would be built on 800 acres of ranch land in Paradox Valley on a site between the Dolores and San Miguel Rivers. Those concerns have included the potential for water contamination from radioactive waste and tailings disposal; air pollutants and emissions; insufficient bonding; socioeconomic issues; health impacts to nearby residents; wildlife; and the amount of water necessary to run the mill.
“Western Colorado – including my home town of Grand Junction – is already pock-marked with radioactive mill tailings and the associated contamination of soil and water.” said Janet Johnson, a Grand Junction resident and member of WCC-Mesa County. “If Energy Fuels cannot prove that its proposal avoids the environmental contamination and public health impacts that have accumulated for the past half-century, Energy Fuel’s proposal to establish yet another radioactive waste site in Colorado should be denied.”
The hearing will be held between Nov. 7 and 13, 2012, and a day has been set aside during that week to take public comment, providing the first meaningful opportunity to have the public’s opinions considered in the state process, according to Travis Stills, the attorney representing Sheep Mountain Alliance.
To begin the formal process, CDPHE will issue a public notice on Aug. 7. The public notice will identify the hearing officer for the proceedings, the specific location of the hearing and provide a deadline for interested organizations and individuals to file for formal party status.