The proposed location for the Pinon Ridge Mill Photo
Last week the West End Advisory Committee, as appointed by the Montrose County Commissioners, approved a recommendation to issue the special use permit for the Canadian company, Energy Fuels’, Pinon Ridge Uranium Mill in Paradox Valley of Southwestern Colorado.
The Montrose County Planning Commission then voted to approve the permit at the same meeting. The Montrose County Commissioners are next; the ultimate decision lies with them. But with such support and recommendation already voiced, it is expected they will issue the permit unanimously.
The mill will be located in the heart of Paradox valley, near a number of organic farms that have sprung up over the last decade. The shadow of the mill already threatens to destroy local farming businesses, and decrease property value, but the lure of employment in the Nucla and Naturita townships is overwhelming.
At the Montrose Planning Department meeting last week, held in the Nucla high school gymnasium, about 300 people showed up to voice their opinions about the uranium mill. Nucla residents held hand written signs, with which they fanned themselves, stating simply “We support local jobs.”
People drove in from Moab and Telluride to oppose the mill, a project they feel represents an out-of-date choice for future energy and employment needs.
There was much discussion. Those wishing to state their opinion for or against the mill were given the opportunity to sign in, and approach the microphone, after a brief presentation by Energy Fuels.
Although more people spoke publicly against the mill, the majority of those in attendance (Nucla and Naturita residents) supported the mill. This was expressed in the applause they gave to proponents of the mill and the jeers they gave to the opponents.
Concerns ranged from waste disposal, fugitive dust blowing over the resort communities of Telluride and Mountain Village, water usage, increased mining, falling property values, and displacement of alternative industries suited for Paradox valley, such as concentrated solar power and organic farming.
But the promise of jobs had infected the room. Nothing could stop the impression that the mill meant work and money for the region. The fact that the last forty years of milling and mining uranium have left the communities of Nucla and Naturita impoverished, and actually destroyed the old milling community of Uravan, seemed to escape those assembled, as they looked back to the past with a fondness for what is familiar. And mining and milling uranium seems part of the identity of these towns. It’s not one they want to give up.
George Glasier, President of Energy Fuels, has promised 72 jobs at the mill. Of those, the majority will be to locals, he says. And yet there are only 35 parking spaces in the mill plans, and one would expect some of these jobs will require a college degree. That already cuts most of the local workforce out of the equation. But the vision of wealth filled the room like the smell of a plastic tent.
One thing’s for sure: Montrose County stands to make a windfall in taxes over the 40 years the mill will be operational. At the targeted uranium value of $59 per pound, annual revenues from the mill are expected to exceed $330,078,000.00. Over 40 years, and you get the picture. Uranium is currently selling at $49 per pound after an up and down year. As China and India increase their demand, though, prices are expected to rise.
But most of the money made by the mill will follow the yellow cake right out of the state. And while the County could use these uranium dollars to pucker up failing roads and infrastructure, the true cost of the milling operations persist long into the future. Longer than anyone can understand. The true cost, over time, approaches infinity. (The half life of uranium is 4.5 billion years. That means in the amount of time the earth has existed, only half of a pound of uranium would have turned to lead. The valley where the ore is mined and will be milled has existed for less than 0.01% of this time frame!)
Other problems persist: The mill will need to use more than 144 gallons of water every minute, 24 hours a day, seven days a week for forty years. During a time when the Ogalla aquifer is expected to lose 20% of its water supply due to climate change, the Pinon Ridge Mill, as proposed, would use up a volume of clean water equivalent to around one-tenth of the water in lake Erie. That’s a volume equivalent to more than one million Empire State buildings! And this in an arid area of the four corners where water rights are already contentious.
Energy Fuels still needs to get a whole slew of other permits. After the issuance of the special use permit come the air emissions permits, stormwater discharge permits, well permits and water rights, above ground storage tank permits, among others. However, once the special use permit is in place, these all become possible, and, in fact, likely. With one Federal Agency after another looking only at their small piece of the puzzle, after navigating no small amount of red tape, the outcome is predictable: They’ll get their permits, and Energy Fuels will ramp up operations in rural Colorado. They’ll mill uranium from US mines and sell it on the international market. They’ll make their millions and leave Nucla and Naturita bust once again, with a fresh pile of tailings that will take billions of years to turn safe.
The valley will be ruined – mountain bikers, eco-tourists, farmers, all the growing industries that currently support the region, will vanish.
Worse, Paradox has an incredible number of unmapped petroglyphs – literally miles of them – that managed correctly could bring thousands of visitors a year.
But, driven by greed, all this will be bulldozed as we go pin wheeling to the past.
Montrose Daily Press www.montrosepress.com/articles/2009/05/24/news/doc4a14ae9ea8d5b414721413.txt
Energy Fuels Website www.energyfuels.com/