Musgrave opposes plan; 2 local Dems work on legislation
BY KEVIN DUGGAN
A proposal to mine uranium east of Wellington is facing mounting political pressure, including opposition from U.S. Rep. Marilyn Musgrave and potential legislation that would add more state regulation.
State Reps. Randy Fischer and John Kefalas, both Fort Collins Democrats, are working on legislation that would require a mining company to prove its operations will not contaminate groundwater resources.
The bill also would "lift the veil of secrecy" that state law allows around mineral prospecting so affected landowners can get a better sense of what's happening on neighboring properties.
The intent of the bill would not be to stop the mining operation, Fischer said, but to ensure the state has adequate environmental standards to protect residents as well as air and water quality.
"Let's make sure those protections are in place before we give permits to do this type mining," he said.
State Sen. Steve Johnson, a Fort Collins Republican, said he would carry the bill in the Senate. The company has a right to the minerals it owns, but nearby property owners have justifiable concerns about the impact of mining on their water, he said.
More regulation will not dissuade Powertech (USA) from pursuing the permits needed to do its work, said Lane Douglas, manager for the company's Centennial Project.
"Powertech is committed to meeting all state regulations in conducting a safe and environmentally conscious mining operation," he said.
The company has invested millions into the project - including $2.1 million for land - and will put in millions more, Douglas said. The rising price of uranium and growing interest in nuclear energy around the world makes the project financially viable.
State officials have designated which regulatory agencies will monitor the operation before, during and after operations. The company expects to apply for the first round on permits by the end of next year and hopes to begin mining in 2010.
"If we can't prove we can do this in an environmentally conscious way, we won't get a permit," Douglas said.
Powertech owns mineral rights on 5,760 acres of land between Nunn and Wellington. Research done in the 1970s and '80s identified the presence of about 4,800 tons of uranium in sandstone beneath the high prairie, company officials say.
Powertech has proposed using a mining process known as in-situ recovery to extract the ore, although company officials have not ruled out the possibility of a conventional pit mine.
In-situ recovery entails pumping treated water into the ground to dissolve uranium deposits. The ore is extracted from the water, which is sent through again. Ore from the Centennial Project would be sent to Wyoming for processing.
Area residents are concerned the mining process could contaminate water they draw from wells with chemicals and radioactive minerals that could cause health problems.
Musgrave, a Fort Morgan Republican whose congressional district includes Larimer and Weld counties, said Tuesday she is opposed to Powertech's proposal and will speak out against it.
Company officials have not given satisfactory answers when pressed for details about the operation, such as whether a pit mine would be used, she said.
"I just don't see how this will work in such a populated area," she said. "I'm a strong proponent of private property rights, but I don't have a good feeling about this and what it would do to residents and agriculture in this area."
Colorado has a history of environmental disasters brought on by mining operations, Fischer said. The state needs to get ahead of advances in mining techniques to protect the environment.
Douglas said in-situ recovery is a safe process and is not a new technology. The water quality of the aquifer that company would tap into does not meet drinking-water standards now and won't after the mining operation, he said.
The process of getting the various permits needed for the mining operation will include opportunities for public comment and for the company to defend what it hopes to do, he said.
"All we want is a fair hearing," he said. "And so far, we haven't had that."