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Powertech: Too much public participation plagues uranium mine rules Print

BY BOBBY MAGILL • This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it
Fort Collins Coloradoan
November 16, 2009

Powertech USA is claiming public comment on its proposed Centennial Project uranium mine northwest of Fort Collins may be illegal.

Also illegal, the company claims, are rules the state is writing that would implement a 2008 law protecting groundwater around the mine because they’re too broad while also being too burdensome on the mining industry.

For most of this year, the Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety has been drafting the proposed rules, which implement HB-1161, a state law regulating pollution and reclamation for in situ leach uranium mines in Colorado.

During the process, the governing councils of Fort Collins, Greeley, Nunn and other cities and towns surrounding the proposed mine site have passed resolutions opposing the uranium mine for fear of potential groundwater pollution.

The law and the proposed rules require Powertech to test the quality of the groundwater at the site prior to mining – known as “baseline” water quality – and return the water to its pre-mining quality after mining has been completed. The rules also offer several opportunities for public participation during and after the permitting process.

In a letter to the DRMS, Dianna L. Orf of the Colorado Mining Association wrote that public comment and appeal opportunities during the state approval process for uranium prospecting in the region not only are illegal, but will be overly burdensome on the mining industry, force mining companies to needlessly spend money and may prevent companies from obtaining a mining permit.

Through its attorney, John D. Fognani of Denver, Powertech last week responded to the latest revision of the proposed rules, calling them illegal and financially unsustainable and complaining that they offer too many opportunities for public comment. Powertech also backpedaled on its previous claim that it decided against encouraging the state to allow the company to revise baseline water quality data after mining has begun.

Powertech argues that the public should only be allowed to comment on the mine during the initial permitting process, not on groundwater quality testing, uranium prospecting and mine reclamation.

The public comment process, Powertech claims, exists only to stall the construction of the mine.

Critics called the company’s claims baseless.

“The idea that comment from local citizens and local governments would grind mining to a halt is simply not supported by the facts,” said Jeff Parsons, a lawyer for mine opponent group Western Mining Action Project. “These are mining operations with the potential to drastically impact local water resources and the environment, and the public ought to have the ability to weigh in.”

In August, the company said it wants to be able to revise baseline water quality data if new water quality information comes to light as an effect of mining.

Mine critics pounced, saying Powertech really wants to revise water quality data so it doesn’t have to fully reclaim the mine.

Powertech President Richard Clement quickly reversed the company’s position, saying “we have no further objection” to the state’s opinion that water quality information can’t be baseline if it has been disturbed by a mine.

But in the company’s comments last week, Powertech called it “common sense” to be able to revise baseline data later on because additional original water quality information can be discovered after prospecting and mining has begun.

David Berry, director of the Mined Land Reclamation Office, said Monday he couldn’t comment on the legality of the proposed rules, deferring a state response to the next public meeting on the rules Dec. 3.

“They appear to be doing everything they can to weaken the regulations,” Parsons said. “The DRMS has thus far stuck to their position of protecting groundwater, and we certainly hope they’ll continue to do that.”

Powertech’s and Parsons’ comments can be found online under the “Stakeholder Meeting #8” header at http://mining.state.co.us/RulemakingComments.htm .




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