Uranium mill appeal overturned

The reprocessing of 32,000 tons of radioactive waste at the nearby White Mesa Uranium Mill is going forward. Last Friday, the Utah Radiation Control Board overruled an appeal from the Glen Canyon Group of the Sierra Club, which charged that the mill is already too contaminated and too outdated to handle the job.

The White Mesa Uranium Mill has been in business in Blanding, Utah, since 1978. Originally set up to enrich uranium ore, the slump in the uranium market forced the mill to adopt a different approach – culling uranium out of tailings from other operations. In this spirit, the International Uranium Corp., the mill’s owner, received approval last year from the Utah Division of Radiation Control to reprocess 32,000 tons of radioactive sludge from a bankrupt facility in Muskogee, Okla., which is undergoing clean up.

The 32,000 tons of radioactive material will be transported from Oklahoma to Albuquerque by rail. At that point, it will be transferred to trucks and hauled up either U.S. Highway 550 and through Durango or by a route through Gallup, Shiprock and Cortez along U.S. Highway 491.

The Sierra Club’s objections concern the sludge after it has arrived at the White Mesa Mill, however. The group charged that the mill is poorly equipped to handle such a large load of tailings, since its disposal cells date to 1978. Further, the White Mesa Mill is also contaminated and leaking radioactive waste, according to the group.

The Utah Radiation Control Board seemed less concerned during a hearing last Friday. After deliberating for hours, the board voted 7 to 3 to allow the approval to stand. A formal permit is expected to be issued in May and the trucks could start rolling by early June.

Travis Stills, an attorney at Durango’s Energy Mineral Law Center, argued the case on behalf of the Sierra Club. Relating last Friday’s hearing, he said, “There was quite a bit of debate amongst the board about what is obviously an old and outmoded facility. There were some very strong views that just because there is pollution and contamination at the mill now doesn’t mean you should be able to add to it.”

Stills then added, “Any facility that’s going to take this kind of waste should be shown to be top notch. Unfortunately, the board took the opinion that the mill is basically good enough for the Blanding area.”

The decision effectively makes Blanding and that section of eastern Utah a sacrifice area, according to Stills. With that in mind, he found the radiation control board’s decision particularly upsetting.  

“That mentality that they’re already damaged goods is basically immoral,” he said. “It’s troubling what people will allow to be done to other human beings. You would expect more in 2007.”

The board is expected to adopt their decision at a May 2 hearing. At that time, a 30-day appeal period will open. Stills said that the Sierra Club has not decided whether or not it will file at this time. But the group is also considering another level of impacts from the decision, impacts that could be shouldered by the entire Four Corners area.

“They are going to be running an enormous number of trucks up through this area,” Stills said. “The people who are going to run into these trucks on the roads and the people whose homes they’ll be driving past deserve some notice and some opportunity to comment. If somebody takes one of those trucks and drives it into some town’s water supply, it’s going to be all over for that community.”

Environmental studies major created

Fresh off the heels of announcing the new Adventure Education degree program in December, Fort Lewis College is ready to do it again. A new Environmental Studies major was recently approved by the Board of Trustees, the final step in making this degree program a reality. The program is set to officially begin this fall.

“The genesis of this degree is the interest and demand for this type of background and training,” said John L. Ninnemann, dean of the School of Natural and Behavioral Sciences. “The time is right to do this.”

Ninnemann also pointed out the fact that in past years a significant number of student-constructed majors had an environmental spin to them. He said that this is further evidence that such a degree program is needed.

Assistant Professor Cindy Browder added that she felt there

was a hole in the academics as far as environmental studies was concerned. Most of the classes that now make up the Environmental Studies major already existed, but were scattered across several departments. This new degree program will bring those classes together to offer students a comprehensive and intensive environmental studies education, she said.

Fort Lewis College President Brad Bartel added that he was pleased with the board’s approval of the new degree. “This program complements our existing science-based options in biology and geosciences and offers an exciting alternative for students needing a multidisciplinary approach to understanding the critical environmental issues facing the region, nation and the world,” he said.

Fort Lewis loses prominent dean

Fort Lewis College’s Dean of the School of Arts, Humanities& Social Sciences has announced his resignation. Richard A. Sax has accepted a position as vice president for academic affairs and dean of the college at Lake Erie College in Painesville, Ohio. He will leave Durango in May.

Sax has served as a dean and a professor of English at Fort Lewis College since 2004. Prior to coming to Fort Lewis, he worked as the dean of the College of Arts and Humanities at Madonna University in Livonia, Mich.

“I will always remember my three fascinating years as the first dean of Arts, Humanities, & Social Sciences at Fort Lewis College, following the reorganization of the institution,” he said. “The college has an impressive past which will, I am certain, still be eclipsed by its auspicious future.”

Sax leaves a lasting impression on the college. He was responsible for initiating the annual Duane Smith Lecture Series, the July 4 Downtown Durango American Voices readings, and the annual Junior Faculty Colloquium. He also helped organize the Southwest Colorado National History Day and worked to implement new majors in American Indian Studies and Gender & Women’s Studies.

Navajo Nation nixes new casino

The Navajo Nation is saying “no” to new gaming. President Joe Shirley Jr. recently vetoed a piece of legislation that would have created another Four Corners casino.

The legislation was approved by the Navajo Nation Council in December and would have created the Tse’Daa’Kaan Gaming Enterprise, an individual chapter enterprise. Shirley countered that it would likely violate gaming compacts with the states of New Mexico and Arizona and conflict with the Navajo Nation’s own Tribal Gaming Enterprise.

“While I fully support chapter involvement in gaming, and especially involvement of those chapters designated as host chapters, I cannot support the establishment of individual chapter gaming enterprises,” he said.

Shirley added that the Native gaming industry is heavily regulated and having separate chapter enterprises would create confusion. The new casino would have been located in the vicinity of Shiprock.

– compiled by Will Sands



In this week's issue...

January 25, 2024
Bagging it

State plastic bag ban is in full effect, but enforcement varies

January 26, 2024
Paper chase

The Sneer is back – and no we’re not talking about Billy Idol’s comeback tour.

January 11, 2024
High and dry

New state climate report projects continued warming, declining streamflows