TELLURIDE – Although it was not an official agenda item, several dismayed citizens condemned the Telluride Town Council at its Tuesday, Oct. 30 meeting, for council’s unanimous decision earlier this month to enter into a settlement agreement with Energy Fuels, the company seeking to acquire a radioactive materials license for the proposed Piñon Ridge Uranium Mill in Paradox Valley.
Skip Edwards of the Advocacy Coalition of Telluride led the charge, voicing concern that the town would now be financially responsible for monitoring programs to establish a baseline level of radionuclides in the environment, and that having a uranium mill in the neighborhood would mar Telluride’s reputation for pristine natural beauty.
“We don’t know how to fix what these guys potentially could break,” he said. “It feels like the settlement agreement was a done deal. I don’t know how this was sold to you and why there wasn’t a lot of public discussion.”
Dana Ivers, also of the Advocacy Coalition, did not mince words. “You were behind closed doors making a deal with the devil,” she said. “I don’t understand why you did not come to the public. You played God with us, and I think you all should be recalled.”
Ivers compared the Piñon Ridge issue to that of the Valley Floor, when citizens rallied to raise millions of dollars to protect a sensitive area from development, and said council should have come to the public if there was concern about the expense of protracted litigation on the matter of the proposed uranium mill. “This is not a town of cowards,” she said. “This is a town that protects its natural resources. Pick up your sword and shield and fight them.”
Advocacy Coalition member Michael Saftler, Telluride attorney Jerry Davidian and developer Ted Martin added their voices to the chorus of disapproval regarding the settlement agreement.
Saftler said he felt “let down” by council. He was particularly shocked, he said, because it was a member of council who initially encouraged him to investigate the dangers posed by having a uranium mill in the vicinity.
“I am in deeper than most people who have considered the issue,” Saftler said. “I am obsessed with it. I pray daily for guidance and how to prevent this calamity from being set on this community. They have proven time and time again that they cannot contain uranium; it gets into air, water and people’s bodies. When it does, it makes people sick. Those are the facts. You have given the green light to the most polluting industry to pollute our water.”
Saftler noted some irony in the fact that the town provided just one day of public notice “in a decision that would affect health of this community for generations” before voting to enter into the settlement agreement with Energy Fuels. A revised agenda containing the settlement agreement as an action item was distributed just the day before the meeting where the decision took place.
Lack of sufficient public input was the whole premise of the legal challenge that the Telluride-based conservation organization Sheep Mountain Alliance and another advocacy group brought against the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment in early 2011, when CDPHE initially granted a Radioactive Materials License to Energy Fuels for the proposed Piñon Ridge facility.
The plaintiffs argued that CDPHE had failed to conduct a proper public hearing and review process. Telluride and Ophir became co-plaintiffs in the suit later that year.
Energy Fuels’ initial license was invalidated in Denver District Court solely on the basis of this procedural matter, and CDPHE was ordered to hold a hearing in order to take public comment before it could consider reissuing a license. That public hearing process swings into high gear in Nucla next week.
Town attorney Kevin Geiger, in the hot seat as one of the architects of the settlement agreement, disputed Saftler’s assertion that the town had not followed proper public notice requirements, stating that the town had met its legal requirement by posting the revised agenda referencing the settlement agreement 24 hours in advance of the Oct. 9 meeting of Telluride Town Council. He said it couldn’t be posted earlier than that because of confidentiality issues in the legal negotiations that were taking place.
Geiger dismissed the notion that the settlement agreement was meaningless and didn’t afford Telluride any protections, pointing out four substantive areas where the agreement has legal parameters. The town is in a stronger position because of the settlement agreement, particularly on the issue of water quality, he said.
“Coming out of the initial licensing decision of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, there was absolutely nothing that would have protected the town’s water rights, resources or quality,” Geiger stressed. “By entering into the agreement with Energy Fuels, we have in place a monitoring and corrective action program that will tie the presence of any radionuclides to recognized public health standards, under the national drinking water standards. I think that’s meaningful.”
Several council members also weighed in with their first public statements on the matter. At the previous meeting, all discussion took place in executive session.
Councilman Thom Carnevale said he was upset with himself for voting for the settlement agreement. “I feel in the depths of my heart the plant should never be approved in an area proximate to community,” he said. “I feel my vote was wrong; I believe I should have voted against it. It is the one thing that I have done since I have been on council where I feel I made a mistake; I voted against the betterment of the town.”
Councilman Brian Werner, meanwhile, took issue with the suggestion that by agreeing to the settlement agreement, council was giving its blessing to the mill. “That is offensive and inaccurate,” he said. “Please be careful about drawing parallels between what we do as a town council and believe as individuals.”
Councilman Chris Meyers apologized to the crowd, noting that their presence at the meeting was “an indication we have failed our community to some degree. It was not an easy decision to make,” he said, stressing that council had taken the matter as far as it could “with the tools at our disposal.”
“None of us want to see this mill happen,” Councilman Bob Saunders added. “The Sheep Mountain Alliance suit most likely will fail. This [settlement agreement] was a way for [the Town of Telluride] to have some sort of recourse if licensing goes forward. If you want to fight this further, give money to SMA.”
NO TO TOMBOY ANNEXATION AND BOOZE IN PARK, YES TO TRIPLE-GREEN, TMRAO ALLOCATION AND PRO CHALLENGE
In other action at Tuesday’s Telluride Town Council meeting, council unanimously voted not to approve the proposed Tomboy Point Annexation, citing among other things concern with the proposal’s failure to fit in with the town’s Hillside Master Plan and failure to clearly prove the annexation’s benefit to the community.
In contrast, council unanimously approved on first reading an ordinance regarding the so-called “Triple Green Plan,” approving right-of-way vacations to allow road realignments of portions of Pandora Avenue, Primrose Lane, Road Hawg Circle and Galena Avenue in a process of collaboration and compromise between developers, homeowners and council committees that has been over two years in the making.
Council also gave a thumbs-up to the 2013 funding request from the Telluride Montrose Regional Air Organization in the amount of $100,000. Half of this funding allocation will be funneled into marketing efforts in target markets served by the low-cost carrier Allegiant Air.
By a split vote of 4-3, council agreed to submit an application to be a host city for the 2013 U.S. Pro Cycling Challenge. Many in the community expressed disappointment with the smaller-than-predicted crowds that showed up for the 2012 event, when Telluride hosted the finish of Stage 1 of the week-long race. But the event’s local supporters, including Telluride Mayor Stu Fraser, who was on the Local Organizing Committee, have emphasized the importance of keeping Telluride’s name in the hat as potential host city, even though it is unlikely the race will come through this part of Colorado next year.
“It is a given that the first year of hosting this event witnessed a lot of successes and failures, with a lot of room for improvement should the event occur again,” Town Manager Greg Clifton noted in a memo to council.
By recommendation of the Parks and Recreation Committee, council approved on first reading an ordinance revising the town’s Open Container Law within Town Park, restricting open containers to the following:
1. Guests registered at any campsite located within the Telluride Town Park Campground;
2. Scheduled adult recreational program participants and spectators;
3. Scheduled private functions;
4. Scheduled special events.
Staff recommended approval of the policy change, stating it would effectively address problems related to alcohol consumption in Town Park and that the new policy can be implemented in a way that is easily understood and enforced.