Attendees at EPA hearing in Nunn strongly oppose leach mining operation
By Chris Casey. Greeley Tribune. June 7, 2011.
NUNN — Northern Coloradans at an Environmental Protection Agency hearing Monday night gave an emphatic thumbs-down to a draft pump test permit, which is precursor stage to a controversial in-situ leach uranium mining operation.
About 60 people attended the public hearing at the Nunn Community Center. It was the second time around for the test permit application, which the EPA, after hearing public comment and reviewing Powertech Uranium Corp.'s previous pump tests, approved late last year.
But the agency withdrew the permit in February when it received a couple of petitions for the final permit to go before the EPA's Environmental Appeals Board. The withdrawal allowed the agency to rewrite the permit as draft language, thereby addressing some petitioner concerns, such as the lack of language about zero pressure requirements — in other words, water will flow back into the well by gravity alone — in the previous permit. Those are pertinent because it makes clear that there's no chance of the pump test breaching the confined area of the test, said Richard Mylott, EPA spokesman.
Valois Shea, an EPA geologist, emphasized this permit would not allow any uranium to be extracted. Powertech, a Canadian company, would need to apply for a class III permit for in-situ leaching and go through a similar process of EPA review and public comment, she said.
“They (Powertech) want to conduct this aquifer test to get information on how water flows through aquifers that contain uranium deposits,” Shea said.
The in-situ leach mining process involves injecting treated water into the ground to dissolve the uranium.
Shea said Powertech must meet a host of requirements to safeguard the groundwater in the test. Further, the EPA will ensure the water from the groundwater well and held in storage tanks before being pumped back into the ground shows no contamination.
Other aspects of the aquifer pump test, which would take place in the Upper Fox Hills aquifer, where Powertech seeks to mine uranium east of Wellington at its Centennial project, would be regulated by the state Department of Natural Resources.
Nearly every speaker — more than 15 spoke — expressed worries that the groundwater would be permanently tainted should uranium mining occur. Most also said in-situ leaching has a poor track record of safety worldwide, to the point it has been banned in some areas, including a couple of Canadian provinces.
Randy King said he is the manager of a drinking water treatment plant in a major northern Colorado community.
“All of us understand the relevance and importance of source protection,” he said. “Don't let it get polluted in the first place. Once it's been polluted, people will never touch it again.”
Howard Williams of Carr said contamination is a certainty. “It's like removing a brain tumor with a meat cleaver. The operation will be successful, but the host will die.”
He said 30,000 people get water from the Fox Hill aquifer.
Williams said there are many unplugged wells from the 1970s and 1980s in the Centennial area that were not properly sealed. That allows for the possible migration of contaminants through vertical pathways. The EPA should require Powertech to ensure the integrity of the historic wells before issuance of any permit, he said, and the results of an investigation into the wells should be made public.
Dr. Michael Paddack of Loveland said he has treated several patients who suffered from chronic uranium exposure in southwestern Colorado. He said the EPA should review Powertech's previous pump tests in which the company said there was no harm posed to the aquifer. He also said the existing unplugged wells nearby should be checked for structural integrity.
Several speakers made impassioned and sharp comments about Powertech, which did not have a representative present. Others pointed out that governing councils in several northern Colorado communities, including Nunn, have passed resolutions against the uranium mining proposal.
“I feel insulted by Powertech and the EPA that these practices are safe,” said Christy Staab of Nunn, who added that she suffers from uranium poisoning. “ … Anyone with a computer can research these types of mining practices. In this depressed economic climate, we don't need one more fight brought to our doorsteps. We asked the EPA for help; please don't hang us out to dry.”
After several speakers expressed concern about whether comments made in the previous public comment period would be included in this permit review, Elyana Sutin, the presiding officer for EPA Region 8 who conducted the hearing, said the previous comments would be included as part of the record.
She noted that at the end of the public comment period, the EPA issues a “response to comment” document that includes replies to all the comments raised. She said that from 30 days after a final decision is made by the agency, anyone who participated in the public comment session can petition for a review of the final permit.
The EPA continues to take public comment on the draft pump test through Friday.