Uranium boom trends toward bust

The uranium boom is continuing to cool in the Four Corners. Citing a slump in metals prices, another mine in the region suspended operations last week. Meanwhile, opponents of the uranium boom have gained an unusual ally – the troubled economy.

In early October, Bluerock Resources Ltd. announced a two-week shutdown of its U.S. operations and the J-Bird Mine, located just west of Uravan. The J-Bird has been a strong prospect for the Canadian company. In the first two weeks of September, the mine produced 240 tons of uranium ore which were shipped to the White Mesa Mill in Blanding and fetched $78,000.

However, the two-week suspension is still in place two months later while Bluerock “works to recapitalize operations to allow for continued development and production.”

On a similar note, the Toronto-based Denison Mines Corp. shut down the Tony mine in southern Utah last week. Denison also owns the White Mesa Mill in Blanding, the only uranium mill currently operating in the country. Like Bluerock, Denison is postponing operations due to “current economic conditions.” However, the company will reevaluate the status of the project and the status of metals pricing every six months.

Travis Stills, of the Durango-based Energy Minerals Law Center, noted that these suspensions are not surprising, given the speculative nature of the current uranium resurgence. “The current bust is to be expected,” he said. “Uranium production in this region has never made financial or economic sense. Regardless of the underlying logic, this casino mentality has drawn speculative capital into our region for over a century, each time leaving behind a legacy of ecological and social disruption.”

Stills added that a tighter credit market will be devastating for smaller uranium mining companies. Most significant, however, is whether these active mines will be safe during the suspensions and whether they will be reclaimed if the suspensions become shut downs.

“The big question this time is whether the recent impacts of the exploration drilling and start-up activities in the Dolores River Watershed will be properly closed down and reclaimed,” Stills said. “If the last bust of the 1980s is any guide, the Bureau of Land Management and the Department of Energy will ignore the reclamation requirements and this bust will add to the shameful legacy of radioactive and toxic contamination of our public lands.”

However, Stills is optimistic about public health and safety as he looks to the future, saying, “This time could be different since the public, local governments, and the public interest organizations in the region will demand full and complete decontamination and reclamation.”

On the flip side, mining companies claim to be forging ahead. Michael Collins, Bluerock CEO, noted that the company is recapitalizing its operations in order to move forward with “its plan of becoming a significant uranium producer in the U.S. Southwest.”

Ron Hochstein, president of Denison, is also optimistc. In a recent company release, he assured investors that uranium will hold its value as more countries build nuclear power plants. And in the same breath that the company closed the Tony Mine, it opened the Beaver Shaft Mine in Utah’s San Juan County, a reserve that includes deposits of vanadium and boasts higher-quality uranium ore.

‘Look Local First’ effort launched

A coalition of groups is working to make “local” the flavor of the holiday season in Durango. More than a year in the making, the “Look Local First” campaign is a joint effort of the Durango Chamber of Commerce, La Plata Economic Development Action Partnership (LEAD), Healthy Lifestyle La Plata, and LOCAL, a new group started by local businesses and nonprofits, which stands for La Plata Organizations Cooperatively Advocating Local.

Through a variety of approaches, the campaign is working to encourage loyalty to La Plata County businesses. A very visible part of “Look Local First” will be “Buck,” a six-foot cutout of a dollar bill who “loves it here and doesn’t want to leave.” Designed by Creative Conspiracy, the character of Buck will show up in stores around the county and have several of his own commercials to spread the “Look Local First” message. While Buck will be out in the streets, the first “Be Local” coupon book for La Plata County is currently for sale in more than 20 local stores. The book retails for $12 but inlcudes

coupons worth more than $2,500 from locally owned, independent businesses. The overall goal of the campaign is to “keep our dollars flowing in La Plata County.” Organizers hope to encourage the multiplier effect, which translates dollars spent in La Plata County into additional purchases and more jobs, higher wages and additional sales tax revenue.

Organizations such as LOCAL are part of a growing national movement emphasizing the look local first message. In Durango, the Sustainability Alliance of Southwest Colorado and the Fort Lewis College Environmental Center are providing significant support to get the new organization off the ground.

“Sustainability means relying as much as we can on goods and services produced close to home to provide what we need to survive,” says Marcus Renner explaining the involvement of the Environmental Center.  “Sustainability starts local.”

“Look Local First” also builds on the long-time efforts of the 840-member Durango Chamber of Commerce and 30 members of LEAD to promote the local business community. “The efforts of the ‘Look Local First’ campaign will continue to improve our quality of life as we all benefit from purchases being made in our own community,” said Jack Llewellyn, executive director of the Chamber.

Local gas prices third highest in state


Durango earned an auspicious honor this week. Despite drastic drops in the price of gasoline nationwide, La Plata County residents continue to face a relatively hard hit at the pump. Local gas prices are currently the third most expensive in Colorado’s “metro areas,” trailing only Vail and Glenwood Springs.

According to the American Automobile Association’s Weekly Fuel Gauge Report, local drivers pay an average of $2.02 for regular unleaded gasoline. Glenwood Springs remained at the report’s top spot at $2.26 for an average gallon. Vail took second place with regular unleaded hovering at $2.23/gallon.

The discrepancy between high and low is significant across the state. Colorado Springs set the lowest average price per gallon at $1.60 for regular unleaded. Greeley and Fort Collins were second and third, at $1.61 and $1.65, respectively.

A month ago, Colorado’s average price for a gallon of gas was $2.42. This week last year, pumps throughout the state posted an average of $3.01. At that time, Durango’s pumps clocked in at $3.14.

– Will Sands



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