Regarding the Piñon Ridge Uranium Mill Application
by By Bob Grossman, Ph.D.
Geologist and Montrose County Resident
Aug 27, 2009 | 844 views | 0 0 comments | 14 14 recommendations | email to a friend | print
GUEST COMMENTARY This letter was sent to the Montrose Board of County Commissioners and to The Telluride Watch for publication.

Editor:

I am a property-tax paying resident of Montrose County, living in the West End near Norwood. I am writing you to object to the approval of the Pinon Ridge Uranium Mill application. Below I list my reasons why:

TOXIC: Uranium is a toxic material and the West End has just been relieved of a previous misuse of this material in a mining operation with the mitigation of the Uravan site. I watched this remediation for about 10 years. This can happen again. Remember, the perpetrators of the misuse “disappeared,” leaving the clean up to the Federal and local governments. You might go back to the early days of Uravan and see what the mill proponents were saying about safety then.

NO RELIEF FOR USA ENERGY: The yellow-cake coming from this operation will not relieve the current or forecast energy crisis in the USA or the West End (all of Montrose County, in fact) in particular. It will go to the international market, which is very volatile. We do not know who will process this into uranium and how it will be used. We will have no safeguards that this “West End” uranium might be used against us.

BOOM/BUST ECONOMICS: The volatility of the international uranium market will insure a boom/bust economy for Naturita and Nucla (will nothing happen in Bedrock or Paradox?). Can you be assured that the jobs this operation will create, all of them!, will still be around 20-30 years from now? How long did Uravan and the Uranium Belt last? The salaries reported: $40,000 to 70,000 are near the poverty line for a family. Not much of a boost to local economy; especially if gasoline prices increase, which is inevitable.

REGIONAL DUST IMPACT: As a resident who appears to be far removed from the mill site in Paradox Valley, I assure you I am not. I am a consulting meteorologist/research scientist with over 30 years since my PhD. My expertise is boundary layer meteorology, that portion of the atmosphere within the first kilometer or so; where we live. I am sure you are aware of the vigorous dust storms that assail the West End in Spring and Fall; last year was extraordinary. Scientists studying the effect of these dust storms report large depositions of dust on alpine snowfields and in alpine lakes/high altitude reservoirs in the San Juan Mountains. I can document that this dust comes from the Four Corners area, well away from the deposition areas in the San Juan Mountains. If that is true, one can expect Piñon Ridge dust, which is likely contaminated with radioactive components, is also in that mixture. This is serious since it may contribute to contaminating water supplies for human and agricultural use. If this becomes an issue years after a mill operation, you might find Montrose County in legal disputes with those water users, including those dependent upon Colorado River water in other states, since the San Juans provide major tributaries to the Colorado.

WATER REQUIREMENTS/IMPACT: I have not heard what the water requirements for this operation might be, if the water is available, and what the impacts of its use might be. I expect impacts to be substantial. This must be openly discussed and considered. If anything is precious out here, it is water! Climate forecasts indicate severe reduction of snowfall in this area over the next 25-50 years and already the high altitude dust deposition, possible effect of current global climate change, is the cause for early runoff and therefore less storage of that resource. Do not expect current levels of water availability to be available in years to come; plan on less.

ROAD USE IMPACTS: How will the operation of the mill affect road travel? How many ore trucks a day will be on our narrow canyon roads, which are also Colorado Scenic Byways (will that affect that designation by the State as a road full of ore trucks is not too scenic). And will roadside residents be able to tolerate the noise? Will these big trucks run day and nite? Who will repair the roads destroyed by these heavy ore trucks? Taxpayers? I am sure you are aware of the deteriorating road conditions in Big Gypsum and Desolation Valleys due to oil and gas trucking.

SPILLS INTO RIVERS: Is Montrose County, the State of Colorado, and/or the Federal Government ready to mitigate a yellow-cake spill into the San Miguel or Delores rivers from a truck accident? Here again the impacts will cross state lines as these rivers flow into the Colorado. The statistics are against you; accidents will happen.

As a citizen of the West End, I am very aware of the poor economy in this region and am for residents having good opportunity for gainful employment. I support this economy whenever I can by supporting local merchants and workfolk. However, the downside of a few jobs at a uranium mill, subject to boom/bust markets, is far greater than the advantages, which will be very local while the downside will be regional. If we want an energy economy in the West End, let’s promote and use a resource with less mess and a lot more potential/survivability than uranium, gas, and oil. It’s called sunshine and we have a lot more of that than uranium in the West End. To that end I am now a supplier to San Miguel Power from solar panels on my roof. That provided jobs for five locals and will enhance the ability of SMPA to provide power to local users. Solar power via panels and concentrated power sources is the future for Montrose County energy. Uranium wasn’t in the past and isn’t now.
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