60-Day Comment Period Open, Public Hearings Scheduled
WESTERN SAN JUANS – A 60-day public comment period has been opened on the U.S. Department of Energy Draft Uranium Leasing Program Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement recommending continued uranium exploration, mine development and reclamation on 31 lease tracts of land located in Mesa, Montrose and San Miguel counties.
The draft PEIS comes after a U.S. District judge suspended the Department of Energy’s Uranium Leasing Program in 2011 for not conducting a full Environmental Impact Statement analysis for the program back in 2008.
Under the Uranium Leasing Program, the DOE Office of Legacy Management manages 31 tracts of land in Western Colorado’s Uravan Mineral Belt leased to private entities for uranium and vanadium mining. The tracts encompass approximately 25,000 acres of land; 18 of the tracts are in Montrose County, 11 in San Miguel County and two in Mesa County; one of those tracts is split between Montrose and San Miguel counties. There are no current active mining operations on any lease tracts.
For the draft PEIS, DOE officials evaluated five management alternatives that ranged from completely cancelling the program to a no-action alternative of continuing the program as is. The DOE’s preferred alternative in the PEIS would see continued mining exploration, mine development and reclamation at all 31 sites for the next 10 years (or for a reasonable period of time). Essentially, the preferred alternative is no different than the original 2008 lease program, except that the 10-year program period would begin if and when this PEIS is ultimately approved.
“This takes a very strong and hard look at what the potential impacts of the leasing program would be,” said PEIS Document Manager Ray Plieness. “The preferred alternative still needs to be evaluated by the public and once it comes back there is an opportunity to change it.”
According to the PEIS, the preferred alternative to continue exploration and mining on the lease tracts assumes a total of 19 mines would operate at various production rates during the peak year of operations in that 10-year period, and that there would be six small mines, 10 medium, two large and one very large, open-pit mine operating during that peak year. The DOE expects that most, if not all, of the mines would be underground, except for the one open-pit mine.
The peak year, according to the 96-page document, could occur as early as the seventh year in the 10-year operating period for the five companies holding leases (an assumption that allows for the two to three years needed to obtain permits and approvals).
Assuming peak numbers of exploration and mining operations, the draft PEIS estimates that 460 acres of land would be disturbed, with a total tonnage of ore generated during the peak estimated at 480,000 tons. The number of workers needed for mine development and operations would vary from seven to 51 workers. The amount of water needed for 19 mines would be approximately 6,300,000 gallons, with up to 14 retention ponds for capturing capture surface water to prevent sediment from entering natural water systems. As for reclamation of the mine operations, it is estimated that would require 39 workers over the course of a peak year, with a presumed waiting period of one to two years for re-vegetation to take hold.
DOE officials will host four public hearings on the Western Slope during the week of April 22 to take public comment on the document. Meetings scheduled for that week, all beginning at 6:30 p.m., take place on Monday, April 22 in Grand Junction at Colorado Mesa University’s University Center Ballroom, 1455 N. 12th St.; Tuesday, April 23 in Montrose at Johnson Elementary School, 13820 6700 Road; Wednesday, April 24 in Telluride at the Telluride High School, 725 W. Colorado Ave.; and Thursday, April 25 in Naturita at the Naturita School, 141 W. Main St.
The draft EIS can be found online at http://ulpeis.anl.gov and on the DOE’s National Environmental Policy Act website at http://energy.gov/nepa. In addition to the public hearings, comments may also be submitted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by mail to: Ray Plieness, PEIS Document Manager
Office of Legacy Management, U.S. Department of Energy, 11025 Dover Street, Suite 1000, Westminster, CO 80021.