by Kevin Duggan
Fort Collins Coloradoan
February 26, 2008
One of the more interesting elements of a Monday meeting on a uranium-mining project proposed for the high plains east of Wellington was the turnout out of local experts on some of the thorniest issues surrounding the proposal.
Powertech (USA) wants to develop an in-situ process for extracting uranium ore from sandstone beneath the surface. The process entails circulating treated water through a series of wells to dissolve and capture the ore. The company’s Centennial Project is still a couple of years from going into operation even if it receives permits from federal, state and local regulatory agencies.
Company officials insist the in-situ process is safe and as environmentally benign as any mining method can be. Critics say it’s far from harmless, and is likely to contaminate local groundwater with heavy metals and radiation churned up even as the uranium is taken away.
At Monday’s meeting sponsored by the Larimer County commissioners, hydrologists spoke about water, a meteorologist talked about wind patterns and the prevalence of dusty devils in the area, and a doctor spoke about the health effects of uranium mining on people who live near pit mining operations, such as members of the Navajo nation.
All were critical of Powertech’s proposal. James Warner, a hydrologist and professor in the civil engineering department at Colorado State University, said Powertech’s expectation of restoring groundwater around the mining area to its present condition within three years is “nearly impossible.”
Their comments seemed to get the attention of the commissioners, who while not yet taking a formal stance on the mining operation, all expressed reservations about its appropriateness near a populated area and its risks. They seemed uncertain about what consequences the in-situ process might bring.
The Larimer County commissioners will not be directly involved in the permitting processes for Powertech’s proposal. But they can send comments to those entities that do have a say as they weigh the matter.
Commissioner Randy Eubanks clearly is opposed to proposal; commissioners Kathay Rennels and Glenn Gibson, while less outspoken, also appeared concerned about what they heard.
No matter what happens with the Centennial Project, all three will likely remember what they heard Monday if and when a uranium-mining proposal ever comes to Larimer County.