Northern Colorado Business Report
By Steve Porter
September 14, 2007 --
NUNN - Powertech Uranium Corp. is facing opposition to its plans to mine uranium in South Dakota as well as Colorado.
The Canadian-based company, which has an office in Centennial, has been drilling test holes this summer near Nunn in Weld County and in southwestern South Dakota near Edgemont. Both operations have raised the hackles of local residents who fear groundwater contamination and potential health problems caused by extraction of the uranium from deep underground.
Charmaine White Face, coordinator of Defenders of the Black Hills, said her group and another, ACTion for the Environment, jointly filed a court motion to block the issuance of a permit for Powertech to drill wells in the Dewey-Burdock uranium deposit near the Black Hills.
"We've been in court since February," White Face said. "We asked for a restraining order to stop Powertech from drilling because we're appealing the permit."
White Face said no court date had been set as of Sept. 7, but the basis of the appeal is the claim that the South Dakota Board of Minerals and Environment approved Powertech's request for a permit before taking public comment.
"They signed the permit before we were even allowed to give our verbal objections," she said.
Dick Fort, president of ACTion for the Environment, echoed White Face's sentiments and said he's not hopeful they will be able to stop the mining. "We're not terribly optimistic, but we're going to fight it every inch of the way."
Both White Face and Fort said they're leading the opposition because of South Dakota's dismal history with uranium. Mining in the 1950s and 1960s led to uncapped wells and abandoned open pits when the industry dried up in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
Fort said he's particularly worried about Powertech's plans for in-situ mining, which involves drilling holes into the uranium-bearing rock layers and injecting a solution to dissolve the mineral and pull it back to the surface.
"It's harmless where it is, but when they dissolve it, it becomes a liquid in an (underground) aquifer, and you don't want uranium in your water," he said.
Local opposition to Powertech's activities in Weld County hasn't reached the courts, but opponents have set up Web sites and are conducting letter-writing campaigns to get the word out about their concerns.
Lilias Jones Jarding, a spokeswoman for CARD, Citizens Against Resource Destruction, said the situation in Northern Colorado is different because, while test holes drilled in the 1970s proved uranium deposits were present, mining never took place because the market went belly up.
"We're in an unusual situation in Northern Colorado because (uranium's) never been mined," said Jarding, who has lived in the Black Hills area. She also noted that uranium has traditionally been mined in remote, sparsely populated areas unlike Northern Colorado, where mining would take place within 100 miles of more than 300,000 people.
Jarding said CARD opposes uranium mining for many reasons, including its potentially negative impact on property values and tourism and because it goes against the area's focus on clean, renewable energies such as wind and solar.
Doing right things
But Powertech spokesman Lane Douglas said the company is doing all the right things to ensure that its activities do not produce any of the negative effects mentioned by opponents. Douglas, who is project manager for the Centennial project in Weld County, said any uranium pollution of the Laramie-Fox Hills aquifer that underlies Powertech's wells is unlikely.
"This is a vertically configured aquifer," he said. "It's fair to say they're impenetrable (rock) layers for all practical purposes. We're going to pump water into the aquifer to see how the aquifer responds, and if we have any lack of confinement, we'll fix it."
Douglas also noted that the company has posted bonds to make sure all of its activities are cleaned up. He said Powertech is not expecting to apply for a mining permit from the state until late 2008 and that there will be numerous opportunities for public comment. Powertech hopes to begin mining in January 2010.
Douglas dismissed the opposition in both Colorado and South Dakota, and said most people living near the Dewey-Burdock area support the return of uranium mining.
"When they closed those mines, the No. 1 source of jobs and taxes went away," he said. "The majority of the citizens in those areas are pro-uranium mining."
Richard Clement, Powertech USA president and CEO, has said Weld County stands to gain between 75 to 100 jobs and $700,000 annually in taxes if the state grants the requested permit.
Powertech stands to earn billions in Colorado, South Dakota and Wyoming if the current high demand for uranium continues.
Douglas said Powertech hopes to prove itself a good neighbor with a concern for the local environment. But Jarding said she and other opponents remain unconvinced.
"There's just no way to do it without contaminating the environment, so we're opposed to it happening at all," she said.