North Forty News
by Steven Olson, Correspondent
They weren't exactly happy campers, those hundreds of people who showed up at a uranium mining company's open house in the Nunn Community Center on July 19.
The company's purpose was to answer as many questions as it could about its Centennial Project, a uranium mining operation in the Nunn area of Weld County, about 13 miles south of the Colorado-Wyoming state line.
Powertech Uranium Corp. is a mineral exploration and development company that holds the Centennial Project in Colorado, the Dewey-Burdock Uranium Deposit in South Dakota and the Dewey Terrace and Aladdin Projects in Wyoming.
Interested citizens found several tables set up along the walls of an old high school gymnasium in the small town. Staffed by employees of the company, the tables were labeled Socioeconomic Data, Environment, In-Situ Recovery-Project Engineering and Corporate and Land Information.
"Some didn't like it," said Pete Webb of Peter Webb Public Relations in Denver, a firm Powertech hired in mid-May. "A number of them did because it gave them the opportunity to get their questions answered."
In the second hour of the open house, however, at least three people used the description "dog and pony show" to describe the proceedings.
"Yeah, I heard that," said Lilias Jarding, on the outreach committee of CARD, Coloradans Against Resource Destruction. "A lot of people were saying they were given conflicting information, too. They'd go to one table and get one answer and then go to another table and get another."
"I hadn't heard that," countered Webb, who pointed out that some tables had bigger lines than others, and some people may not have had time to get their questions answered.
In-Situ Recovery-Project Engineering had one of the longest lines. Powertech is talking about a process that uses water along with sodium bicarbonate to bring uranium up from where it's buried and cause it to adhere to specially coated beads, which will be shipped off to be processed to retrieve the uranium. The process pumps the solution down over and over again until there is no more uranium. People living in the area are worried about the amount of water used and what could happen if the in-situ process pollutes the Laramie-Fox Hills Aquifer.
Garret Voshell, a dog trainer who lives west of Nunn, can see Powertech's drilling rigs boring monitor wells from his living room. Voshell asked the Powertech CEO, Dick Clements, how much water the in-situ process was going to use. Jay Davis, a neighbor of Voshell and a member of CARD, said Voshell had to be persistent in asking the question.
"Garret went back and forth with him for an extended period of time," said Davis. Voshell never did get an answer out of Clements as to how much water was going to be used in the process, but he did get a rate from him - 20 gallons a minute.
"Do the math. Seven days a week. Twenty-four hours a day. That's a lot of water," said Voshell. "We're limited to 15 gallons a minute. Now this guy wants 20?"
According to Davis, "Half a dozen people came up to him [Clements] upset that they were not getting the same answers [from others at the various tables] that he was giving."
In addition, many area residents fear the aquifer will be contaminated.
"It's not just water," said Davis. "It's a health issue. To say there has never been an accident is not backed up by the experience. They claim that it's never happened. I'm afraid we're going to get contamination and, even with those monitoring wells, it's not going to show up for years. I mean the water in that aquifer moves by feet per year."
Webb said there will be 23 monitoring wells - 4-inch wide pipes equipped with PVC caps, which will act like buckets in an old-fashioned well, from which the water can be sampled.
Those wells are another source of controversy. Jarding says the drillers are already leaving them uncapped, leading right down to the water supply. Webb said even uncapped, the wells are not a hazard because they are only 4 inches wide. "Children could not fall into any of those things," he said.
Davis said people are afraid the Nunn area will have the same experience as Goliad County, Texas, where a different company used the same process. Davis didn't have an exact number but said several groundwater wells are already showing up as contaminated.
CARD has posted a list of 81 questions on its web site, www.nunnglow.com, which Davis claims Powertech has never answered. Webb responded that Powertech has answered 60 of them via its correspondence with CARD. Some of the other questions, Webb said, were not even worthy of an answer.
"I would like Pete to point out in the documentation he's sent us where he's ever answered any of our questions," Davis said, "because I've never seen any. And saying that some questions aren't even worth an answer, well, that's even worse...You at least answer their questions, you don't just blow somebody off."
Despite his opposition to the proposed mine, Davis is resigned to Powertech's chances of getting approval. "I shouldn't say this," he said, "but if they have all their paperwork together, I don't think we can stop them."
Davis has one raw number in mind. "Clements said he thought they could make about $100 a pound," Davis said. "Now their estimate is that there are 9 million pounds down there. You do the math."
For more information on the Centennial Project, visit the web site www.powertechuranium.com or call the project information line toll free 1-877-798-4240. Webb said the next permit the company will have to get will be from the state health department and department of natural resources, which will be one year away.
CARD will host a public meeting concerning the proposed uranium mining on Aug. 22 in Ault, 6:30 to 8:30 p.m., at the VFW, 100 First Ave.