Tuesday, June 15, 2010

In local uranium hearings, passions run deep: Concerns mount as a mill nears Paradox

Comments:  Great points about the air flow and uranium dust flowing from the tailings pile, one thing that should be used on June 22 at the Chatham High School, Chatham, VA.

By Matthew Beaudin
Published: Saturday, June 12, 2010 8:10 AM CDT

The mill is under review by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, which will issue its decision sometime next winter.

Chris Myers sits on the Telluride Town Council, pushes alternative energies when he can and has voyaged to several meetings on the mill. And while he appreciated the notion of working together, he thinks the region can do better.

“I really don’t think this is the solution,” he said at the Telluride meeting. “We are trying to work with you. We want to build a bridge. There are many of us in elected government that don’t feel that this is the right bridge.”

Old mining sites, he said, were “wastelands” left behind by companies. “These are places that have been abandoned and forgotten.”

“Every source of energy has its drawbacks.”

But perhaps none as large as this one.

Mark Williams, a Mountain hydrology professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder, started working in the San Juan high country in 1996, employed by the county commissioners to forge high altitude land use codes.

Then, researches found high nitrate content in the waters around Telluride and Ophir — thanks to its proximity to power plants in the Four Corners.

Now, he’s using models to track how air masses move, and one thing to Williams is clear: “You guys are simply downwind of Paradox,” he said.

The problem then becomes what’s in that air as it blows from Paradox Valley, where the mill would be built, to Telluride.

“The thing that we’re most concerned about is radioactive dust … if it gets into the air at Paradox…. The chances of it making it to Ophir or Telluride are high.”

A call to Energy Fuels wasn’t immediately returned on Friday afternoon, but Williams said the company has done air-mass models, though he doesn’t think they planned for the worst.

For instance: Energy Fuels plans on watering its tailings piles to keep the dust down, “but what happens if, for five days, for whatever reason, they’re out of water and they can’t truck in water and you get those 100 mph winds?” William wonders.

“Our concern for our community is certainly air and water quality up here,” Randy Barnes, Ophir’s town manager, said. “The dust from Paradox and the Four Corners region is definitely coming and being deposited in the San Juan Mountains.”

For as scientific as the discussion is, its heartbeat is the socio-economic chasm between the west end and here. Both groups want the same thing but see getting it differently.

“I’ve failed to see how the benefits of the mill outweigh the risks,” Barnes said. “Everybody wants everybody to be employed… be we are also very concerned with less than 100 jobs as a benefit to the risks of thousands of people.”

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