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Why no, why now on mine Print

by Pam Shaddock (Editorial)
Greeley Tribune
April 17, 2008

In John Grisham's newest novel, "The Appeal," he describes a county exposed to contaminated water that becomes known throughout the United States as "Cancer County." This must not be our fate.

A similar story may be brewing in Weld County linked to the mining of uranium at Powertech's site close to Nunn and Wellington. As advocates for the residents of Greeley, city council's opposition to this operation is essential, and it is essential now. If this project is accepted, it will be too late.

This project poses a risk our health. After an independent examination, the Colorado Medical Society announced opposition to mining of the type described by Powertech. Uranium is called a "hazardous material" for an obvious reason. Our first duty is to have zero tolerance for health risks to the residents of our city and county.

We can't afford to risk our water. Greeley City Council began researching this topic in September 2007, starting with our drinking water supply. While staff reported that "this project would not affect our drinking water supply, which is upstream of the proposed mining site," they also reported that movement of underground waters is "probable from the mine site to the Poudre River." Any migration of contaminated water is unacceptable and no amount of money can reimburse us for such a loss.

The introduction of any contaminated water in the Weld County area poses an economic problem for Greeley. National statistical reporting lumps all of Weld County under a "Greeley" heading. In the future any Internet search regarding uranium: mines, accidents, spills, water contamination, uranium or anything else will be reported under Greeley's name, despite the fact that the mining is up by Nunn.

This phenomenon linked "Greeley" to the fastest rate of growth in the United States, and then having the most home foreclosures. We get the good and the bad.

So will the good outweigh the bad with the Powertech project? For Greeley the answer is "no." The 280 new jobs forecasted by Powertech could easily be a greater benefit to Larimer County than Greeley. Both Wellington and Fort Collins are closer to the project site, so employees may choose to live and spend dollars in Larimer County. Likewise, any industries supporting the mine could be in Larimer. The project will last for only a few years, so jobs and infrastructure will be only temporary. The damage left behind could be permanent.

Reputations are hard won and easily lost. We have been trying to develop a reputation as a center for clean, renewable energy: wind, ethanol, biomass. Uranium mining doesn't fall into this "clean, renewable" category. The uranium mining industry so far has a poor safety record, further complicating our efforts to successfully market Greeley. "Locate downwind from an active uranium mine" is not an enticement.

Greeley also is responsible for hazardous material cleanup in northern Colorado. While we bill the responsible party for cleanup, sometimes we don't get paid. Nonpayment is a luxury that a tight city budget can't afford. The risk is exaggerated because the owners of Powertech simply have no long-term track record as a business, and the company's $23 million in capitalization doesn't come close to the hundred million-plus that might be required to cleanup a contaminated site.

The permit application by Powertech to gin up a uranium mine in our back yard is worse than a bad idea: it is a threat to our health, our water and our economy. It should be opposed immediately and throughout the permitting process. Grisham has laid out one scenario already. Greeley and Weld County shouldn't provide him with material for a sequel.

Pam Shaddock represents Ward 4 on the Greeley City Council.

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