By Pamela Dickman
February 26, 2008
FORT COLLINS — Fort Collins resident John Dixon compared a proposed uranium mine in Weld County to a single bullet in the chamber of a revolver.
“If we allow uranium mining in Weld County, we will be playing Russian roulette with the lives of our children and the lives of future generations,” he told the Larimer County commissioners at a public hearing Monday night.
The commissioners did not make a decision about whether to oppose the proposed in situ leach mine, but Commissioner Randy Eubanks said he will request one soon.
“Sometimes governance is a contact sport,” said Eubanks, after admitting he is “a little disgusted by (mining industry) efforts to brain wash.”
“Sometimes we have to just step up and take the lead.”
His fellow commissioners, Glenn Gibson and Kathay Rennels, were not as forceful in their comments. Both voiced concerns about water and public safety, but said they needed to learn more about the issue.
Most of the residents who spoke did feel as strongly as Eubanks.
All but two of the 28 argued a uranium mine in Weld County would destroy the environment and the economy throughout Northern Colorado.
A uranium operation could emit dangerous and undetectable radiation, could cause cancer and other illnesses and would consume 1 million gallons of water per month in an area where the resource is already scarce, residents said.
Dr. Michael Paddack — one of the 5,000 doctors who belong to the Colorado Medical Society, which opposes the mine — said he personally has seen many of the associated health risks, including cancer, become reality in an area near a uranium mine.
If the mining process were not safe, federal and stringent state regulations would not allow it, said Terry Walsh, the project manager for the proposed mine in his presentation to the commissioners. He said he is confident the in situ leach process is “safe and benign” and will do nothing but provide a clean, green power source for America.
Fort Collins resident Bruce Lockheart agreed. All forms of electricity, including coal and solar power, result in some radiation and have some risks, he said.
“Nuclear power is probably the least of them,” said Lockheart, who compared the fear of radiation to Howard Hughes, the movie mogul who became a hermit by trying to stay away from germs.
His opinion of nuclear power was shared by Fort Collins resident Michael Beshore, the senior environmental coordinator for Powertech. Beshore believes uranium mining should occur here, where it is regulated, instead of in Third World countries where it is not.
“There are very, very stringent regulations in place in the state of Colorado, some of the most stringent in the country, to protect health and environment,” Beshore said.
None of those regulations address in situ uranium mining, added Loveland resident Jeff Parsons, a mining attorney working with the organized opposition to the Powertech proposal. New bills to protect water quality from in situ mining are before lawmakers but have not yet passed, he noted.
Residents expressed what Gibson described as “rational concerns.”
Their worries included: What will happen if the water is contaminated? What if Powertech eventually launches an open pit mine (though company officials say they will not) and wind and rain spread contamination? How will the wastewater be stored until it is removed from the site? Will that be safe?
“There is nothing you can do to make it nondangerous,” said Fort Collins resident Paul Smith, a retired nuclear physicist. He and other residents said even under the best of circumstances, there is human error and the possibility of severe health and environment risks.
While a potential mine is four permits and many months away, residents are already starting to feel the economic effects.
Darrell Wyatt, who retired to Carr from Baltimore, is looking for rural land in New Mexico, Utah and Montana, away from the possibility of a mine.
“When we find one, we’re moving,” he said.
Others, Fort Collins resident Diane Marschke said, are refusing to come to Northern Colorado because of the possibility of a mine. And Realtor Loretta Bailey said she has lost business when she told potential customers about the proposed mine.
“I couldn’t live with myself knowing that I sold property to a young family with children,” she said. “They buy out there and they are going to have to live with contaminated water and land, and they suffer ... I suffer because of it. I tell them, and they don’t buy, and I don’t blame them.”
Opponents of the mine applauded speakers throughout the night, but loudest and largest round of applause was for the final speaker, Bob Van Gorder of Fort Collins. The 65-year-old man said the lip service of the uranium industry was the first thing in his life that sparked him to take a stand and insist local officials protect the water and future.
He urged residents to take on the big corporation with a resounding message: “Stay out of our lives.”