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Uranium Support Moves Above Ground Print

By Joshua Zaffos
Rocky Mountain Chronicle
April 3, 2008

Mine opponents say one Loveland lawmaker is playing dirty at the statehouse.

Don Marostica was alone among Northern Colorado representatives opposed to uranium-mining controls. Before Don Marostica was a state lawmaker or a successful commercial real-estate broker, he was a high school science teacher, schooling teenagers in geology. Class was back in session for Mr. Marostica on March 28, when he tried teaching the state House of Representatives about uranium mining.

But Marostica is receiving failing grades from landowners fighting the uranium operation after he defended in-situ mining — the process that Powertech Uranium Corp. would like to use to get at over nine million tons of uranium oxide near Nunn, less than ten miles from Fort Collins — and hurled a few gaffes during a debate over proposed state legislation.

The in-situ method injects water underground to carry uranium to the surface, and then returns the water and, possibly, contaminated materials and heavy metals, back underground. House Bill 1161 would require companies to demonstrate they can restore groundwater resources to pre-mining quality, or meet state standards.

After Fort Collins Democrat and bill sponsor John Kefalas spoke on the House floor and mentioned a petition with eight thousand signatures supporting strong regulations on uranium mining, Marostica referred to “those eight thousand fake signatures.” The Loveland Republican also remarked that he didn’t “see the credibility” in a letter from Republican Congresswoman Marilyn Musgrave that expressed her opposition to Powertech’s plans.

“It showed me how dirty politics can be,” says Robin Davis, a member of Coloradoans Against Resource Destruction (CARD) whose land overlies mineral rights owned by Powertech. Davis says Marostica’s implication is insulting to landowners who signed the petition and that slides he presented to his House colleagues are among the same ones that Powertech has shown at meetings. The bill passed the House by a vote of 49 to 16, with Marostica as the only Northern Colorado lawmaker in the minority. He insists that mining opponents are misconstruing his stance.

“What I said is that a lot of those signatures are not from this area,” Marostica says, although that distinction wasn’t actually made. Regarding Musgrave’s credibility, the legislator says he was questioning Democrats’ use of the letter, not the congresswoman.

“Everyone else is tiptoeing, because they want to get elected. I’m the only one in Northern Colorado who is taking this view,” Marostica continues.

He is also up for election this November, but in terms of mine opposition in his district, Marostica claims he has received only seven emails from constituents, and a whole lot more from people in Longmont and Fort Collins.

“I’ve studied the in-situ science, and I’m very comfortable with how they set up the monitoring wells. I think that the method that Powertech is using is as good as anything out there. All I’m trying to do is present the other side of the story. Do I want to protect our water? Absolutely.”

Marostica thinks the legislation could set an unrealistic standard for restoration, considering uranium already causes radioactivity in parts of the groundwater aquifer.

“This is such a simple bill to hold mining companies to their word that they can restore the groundwater,” Davis replies.

James Warner, a Colorado State University engineering professor and former industry consultant, says water quality near uranium deposits contain radioactivity, but companies should be able to restore the aquifer, although it’s not cheap.

“They could clean it up if they really wanted to,” Warner says of the pre-mining restoration standards. He adds that no other in-situ mine has proceeded with such close proximity to people.

The bill now moves to the Senate, and the House will consider bill 1165, legislation that could extend the authority of the state Mined Land Reclamation Board to include more environmental and health matters.

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