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Proposed Rules Target Powertech Mine Plans Print

BY BOBBY MAGILL This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it
Fort Collins Coloradoan
November 1, 2009

As 75 pages of proposed rules go, so goes Powertech USA's proposed Centennial Project uranium mine northeast of Fort Collins.

Once the state approves them, those rules, now in the process of being written by Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety officials, aim to keep groundwater contamination from the mine in check and determine how much input the public will have in the mine permitting process.

The governments of almost all the mine's surrounding cities and towns, including Fort Collins, Greeley, Nunn and others, have passed resolutions opposing the mine, citing possible water contamination.

The proposed rules lay out how Powertech would have to study what the groundwater quality is at the mine site before mining begins, prove that other similar mines elsewhere have been able to prevent groundwater contamination, and how it plans to reclaim the mine once its operations are complete and return the groundwater quality to what it will be before mining begins.

The rules, required by a 2008 state law regulating in situ leach uranium mines like the one Powertech is proposing, have been evolving since May. The latest revision went public Oct. 20.

Powertech isn't saying much about the revisions until it meets the Nov. 10 deadline for comments on the rules. A hearing on the rules is scheduled for Dec. 3 in Denver.

"I think the rules conform very much to the laws that were passed last year," Powertech President Richard Clement said Thursday, adding he couldn't comment further while the company's attorneys pore over the rule revisions.

The rules provide some high hoops for Powertech to jump through if the Centennial Project, planned to be built on several thousand acres in Weld County about 15 miles northeast of Fort Collins, is to begin extracting uranium.

Specifically, the proposed rules would require the company to, among other things:

  • Compare the plans for the Centennial Project to and describe at least five other in situ leach mines elsewhere that did not contaminate the groundwater, illustrating Powertech's ability to keep its toxic chemicals contained.

    Submit a plan to the DRMS for determining the mine site's "baseline" water quality, or the groundwater quality prior to the start of mining. Once the plan is submitted, the public will be allowed 10 days to comment.

  • Carry out that plan for five calendar quarters, describing in detail both pre-mining surface and ground water conditions.
  • Create an extensive groundwater monitoring plan.

The proposed rules allow the state to deny Powertech a mining permit if it can't prove it will fully reclaim the mine and clean any groundwater it has contaminated, there are any future domestic or agricultural uses for any of the groundwater Powertech might contaminate, or, among other reasons, Powertech willfully violates environmental protection requirements of the rules.

In August, in written comments disputing some of the proposed rules, Powertech proposed to be able to go back later and revise the pre-mining water quality data after the mine has begun to impact the groundwater, but it later rescinded that request.

"This is their big shot at a redress," mine opponent Jeff Parsons of the Western Mining Action Project said.

Parsons said he fears Powertech will tell the public it'll do whatever it can to protect groundwater, then go back and encourage the state to weaken environmental protection standards later.

Overall, though, the proposed rules stick to strong groundwater protections, he said.

But the state, he said, is compromising on public involvement in the permitting process.

Only public comments are allowed on the baseline groundwater study, but the public should be allowed to appeal the study's findings, he said.

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