Montrose County Planning Commission Delays Decision on Controversial Uranium Mill

By: Tim Ciesco Email
By: Tim Ciesco Email

After five hours of discussion and public comment, The Montrose County Planning Commission officially closed the public hearing on a controversial new uranium mill proposal -- but said it needed more time to study the matter before making a final recommendation.

Tuesday night, the commission held a public hearing on a request for a special use permit to open a uranium mill in the Paradox Valley. Tuesday night's meeting lasted for five hours and was a continuation of a meeting the commission held on May 20, which also lasted five hours.

The project the commission is discussing is the Pinon Ridge Mill, an 880 acre uranium and vanadium mill about 12 miles west of Naturita. Energy Fuels, the company applying for the special use permit, says the mill would produce 770,000 pounds of processed uranium each year -- the equivalent, officials say, of 1,500 megawatts of power. The company says once opened, the mill would take in 21 truckloads of uranium ore each day and put out 15 truckloads of processed "yellow cake" uranium.

More than 100 people showed up for the meeting. The majority of them were there in support of the mill.

Supporters say it would create a significant number of new jobs, not just in the mill itself, but within the area's mining industry, which they believe the mill will help revive. They say the prospect of good, new jobs will boost dwindling population numbers and the overall economy of the area. They admit there are some risks to public health and the environment that come inherently with uranium mining and milling, but feel Energy Fuels is going above and beyond to make sure there is little to no impact.

Opponents of the mill feel differently. They say they're most worried about mill tailings being exposed to the air, and because the Paradox Valley is so windy and prone to dust storms, they believe tons of radioactive particles will escape into the environment and spread all across Southwestern Colorado. While they admit, the opponents of the mill have not been nearly as vocal as the supporters, they believe most of the impacted areas are on their side -- and say new jobs and economic prospects should not be put over public safety.

"We should try to make some kind of company, like a company making solar panels or something like that," said Marie Moore, a Paradox resident who is against the mill. "Something that is less dangerous, less risky, and doesn't harm the health of the entire community."

"We believe that they will see in the long run that this is safe, that it is good, and that it's not going to impact them adversely," said Dianna Reams, a Naturita resident who supports the mill.

At 11:00 Tuesday night, the Planning Commission decided to continue the hearing for a second time, but said no more public comments would be heard.

Once a decision is handed down by the Planning Commission, the special use permit request will go before the Montrose County Commissioners. If they approve it, Energy Fuels will still have to get the stamp of approval from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment before they can open the mill.

The West End Planning Advisory Committee has recommended the Montrose County Planning Commission approve the request.

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