New Public Hearing Set for Piñon Ridge Uranium Mill
by Gus Jarvis
Aug 13, 2012 | 3066 views | 1 1 comments | 4 4 recommendations | email to a friend | print

MONTROSE COUNTY – After its first hearing process was declared unlawful by a Denver district judge in June, Energy Fuels Inc.’s next step to acquire a radioactive materials license for its proposed Piñon Ridge Uranium Mill in Paradox Valley is set to begin in October, with a public hearing in Nucla scheduled for the week of Nov. 7.

In a ruling issued June 13, Judge John McMullen ruled the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s initial issuance of the radioactive materials license was unlawful because a formal, adjudicatory hearing was not properly provided. McMullen ordered a new hearing, which will begin on Oct. 15. At that time exhibits will be offered for admission and written testimony will be filed in order to provide an opportunity for parties to cross-examine expert witnesses.

Public comment will not be received at the Oct. 15 hearing, but the hearing officer will determine when public comment will be received when the hearing is reconvened on Nov. 7, in Nucla.

Energy Fuels spokesman Curtis Moore said the upcoming public hearing will be different from the public-comment setting of the previous hearing in that it will be more like a trial.

“The exact format for the hearing is still being worked out,” Moore said on Monday. “As I understand it, Energy Fuels will give a presentation and then those who have applied for party status will have the opportunity to give a presentation and cross examine our technical experts. Energy fuels will also have the opportunity to cross examine witnesses as well.”

The Telluride-based environmental group Sheep Mountain Alliance filed a lawsuit against CDPHE in February, 2011, after it issued Energy Fuels a license to construct the first uranium processing mill in the United States since 1980. The towns of Telluride and Ophir, Colo. joined the lawsuit as co-plaintiffs in October, 2011.

Sheep Mountain Alliance’s original complaint included 11 claims. In his ruling, McMullen rejected 10 of those claims, which were related to environmental, health and safety arguments. He ruled in favor of the plaintiffs on Claim One concerning CDPHE’s original approval process and ordered a new process to be held.

Following that ruling, the parties in the lawsuit negotiated the terms of the formal hearing process, which will allow the public to provide oral or written comments and also allow other organizations and individuals to enter the proceedings more formally with the right to submit evidence and testimony and cross-examine witnesses.

The proceeding will be conducted by an independent hearing officer. Under the negotiated agreement, the state will be required to consider all new information before making a decision on whether to grant a new license to Energy Fuels. The final deadline for the licensing decision is April 27, 2013.

A number Western Slope residents along with several conservation and social justice organizations have concerns about the proposed mill, which would be built on a site between the Dolores and San Miguel rivers. Those concerns, according to Sheep Mountain Alliance, have included the potential for water contamination from radioactive waste and tailings disposal; air pollutants and emissions; insufficient bonding; socioeconomic issues; health impacts to nearby residents; wildlife; and the amount of water necessary to run the mill.

“We are pleased that the public will finally get a formal chance to scrutinize this proposal,” said Hilary White, executive director of Sheep Mountain Alliance. “As a party in this hearing process, we will continue to ensure that the clean air and clean water of this region are protected.”

The hearing will be held between Nov. 7 and 13, between the hours of 8:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m., and a day has been set aside during that week to take public comment, providing the first meaningful opportunity to have the public’s opinions considered in the state process, according to Travis Stills, the attorney representing Sheep Mountain Alliance. The hearing will be held at the Loyal Order of Moose Lodge 635 located at 1045, Main Street in Nucla.

Persons who believe they may be affected or aggrieved by the proposed mill may file a written request for party status. The request must identify the individual or group applying, including the mailing address, email address, and telephone number where they may be contacted, and must include a brief and plain statement of the facts entitling them to party status, including the nature of their interest in the hearing and the specific issues to be addressed. Written requests for party status should be directed to Richard Dana, Judicial Arbiter Group, Inc., 1601 Blake Street, Suite 400, Denver, CO, 80202 or at, 303/572-1919 or 800/272-4837.

The deadline for submitting request for party status is Sept. 25. or @gusgusj

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August 14, 2012
Very informative and balanced article.

I encourage local folks who have an interest to apply for 'party status'.