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Numerous articles, editorials, and letters to the editor are being published in local newspapers concerning uranium mining in northern Colorado. To view them, see the Reference page.
Uranium mining boom brings gloom Print

by Mark Jaffe
The Denver Post
July 1, 2008

From the South Dakota and Colorado plains to the Rocky Mountains, uranium exploration is surging as local communities struggle to control it.

In 12 Western states, the number of uranium mining claims has doubled since 2003 to 414,228, according to an analysis of federal data by the Washington, D.C.-based Environmental Working Group.

In Colorado, uranium-mining claims filed on federal land have gone from 120 in 2003 to almost 11,000 last year, according to the federal Bureau of Land Management.

"We are surely in a boom," said Ronald Cattany, director of the state Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety.

A more telling measure — for the claims are often speculative — is exploration permits from the state and the BLM.

State permits doubled over the past year to 90, Cattany said, and in the past six months, the number of federal exploration permits jumped almost 50 percent to 67.

Across Colorado, communities are fighting to control the uranium rush.

In Weld County, a grassroots campaign against a plan by Powertech Uranium Corp. has led to new state laws requiring greater public disclosure of mining activity and tougher rules on so-called in-situ mining, in which ore is flushed from the ground through wells.

On July 8, a group of residents living along Tallahassee Creek, just outside Cañon City, is set to challenge a use permit from the Fremont County commissioners to Black Range Minerals LLC.

"A good thing, economically"

And in Park County, where the New Horizon Uranium Corp. has been driving in claiming stakes right up to homeowners' property lines, a group called Save Our South Park Water has been formed.

"The state has changed since the last mining boom in the '70s. There are more people, more environmental concerns and more grassroots opposition," said Jeff Parsons, an attorney with the Western Mining Action Project in Lyons.

The mining activity is being driven by uranium-ore prices, which on average tripled between 2003 and 2007 to almost $33 a pound, according to the federal Energy Information Administration.

This spring, long-term contract prices were around $80 a pound, according to mining executives.

"Colorado has reserves, and if mining is done properly, this is a very good thing, economically, for the state," said Stuart Sanderson, president of the Colorado Mining Association.

Still, the activity is provoking concerns among homeowners from the plains to the mountains.

When Robin Davis received a letter saying her Mustang Hollow equestrian center outside of Wellington was in the path of uranium mining, she thought it was "a joke."

Powertech owns nearly 5,800 acres of mineral rights in Weld County and estimates there are at least 10 million pounds of uranium to be gathered by in-situ mining, according to company filings.

Technique new to Colorado

"We didn't know there was any uranium out here," Davis said, "but when we started to look into it, we were concerned."

While the in-situ mining technique Powertech will use has been around for 40 years, it is new to Colorado.

"We felt we needed more protection," said Davis, who helped found Coloradans Against Resource Destruction.

The group began mobilizing neighbors, and that led to the passage of state legislation in March.

"It was really a grassroots effort," said one of the sponsors, Rep. Randy Fischer, D-Fort Collins. "We took our cue from the people."

The state Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety is now setting draft rules to meet the two uranium-mining laws.

One law requires more public disclosure of uranium prospecting. Until now, mining-company information filed with the state, such as size and general location, was confidential.

The second law tightens controls on in-situ uranium mining. It will require companies to do baseline water-quality studies and restore the aquifer to that level or one set by the state Department of Public Health and Environment.

A new fee structure also was set up so that the state can hire consultants to review in-situ mining plans.

"These applications and technologies are so nontraditional and complex, we wanted to make sure they are thoroughly reviewed," said Cattany.

Colorado's rules will set "a standard of restoration that is higher than historical restoration," said Richard Clement Jr., Powertech's chief executive.

"Hopefully, the rules will relieve some of the concerns people have had," Clement said.

Fighting mad in Fremont

Residents along Tallahassee Creek are preparing to fight a use permit granted to Black Range Minerals by Fremont County.

The Australian miner estimates there could be 30 million pounds of uranium there and has drilled more than 70 exploration wells, according to company documents.

One of those wells wasn't far from Jim Hawklee's home.

"We're from west Texas," Hawklee said, "so we're used to companies coming on your land to drill, mostly for oil — but this is uranium, and it raises a whole bunch of health and safety questions."

There is concern that there might be radiation exposure, Hawklee said, but just as worrisome are the heavy metals and mine waste.

"They want the uranium but not the other stuff," he said.

The county commissioners have tentatively issued the permit — provided that the mining exploration does not hurt property values.

"They are prepared to approve it because there is no evidence exploration will hurt property values," Hawklee said. "We think Black Range ought to ought to prove it won't."

Park County officials, however, have taken the position that the mining company operating there — New Horizon — can stake claims in residential areas but cannot mine in those areas — even using in-situ technology.

"The ball is in their court," said Tom Eisenman, the county planning director. "They are considering options like buying up the land in a subdivision and trying to get it rezoned for mining."

Mark Jaffe: 303-954-1912 or This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it

Click here to read article and view accompanying pictures in the Denver Post.

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