State takes on the uranium boom

Southwest Colorado residents have gained a measure of security in the wake of an ongoing radioactive rush. Last week, Gov. Bill Ritter signed legislation to ensure that the state’s water quality and public health are not harmed by the current surge of uranium mining.

High global demand and prices have been driving a uranium boom in the Four Corners region for the past several years. In addition, a Department of Energy decision last summer opened an additional 27,000 acres on the Western Slope to uranium mining. Prospectors answered the call and staked 10,730 new uranium mining claims in Western Colorado in 2007 alone.

However, the Colorado State Legislature has also taken steps to keep the radioactive resurgence in check. Taking the work of activists and watchdogs a step further, the general assembly is doing its best to ensure that future mining will be done in as safe and clean a manner as possible.

House Bill 1161 and Senate Bill 228 passed through the Colorado Assembly with broad bipartisan support last month. HB 1161 establishes minimum standards to protect Colorado’s environment and ground water from unsafe leach uranium mining. In addition, the new law will require all uranium mines in Colorado to meet basic environmental and public health protections as “designated mining operations.” Once ore is removed, mining companies will have to restore the ground water at injection uranium mining projects to original, pre-mining conditions or to state standards.

Senate Bill 228 would provide greater transparency for all mineral exploration. Prior to the bill, the state kept the public in the dark and all information about mining exploration secret.

Last week, Ritter signed HB 1161 into law. He praised the bill for striking “a good balance” and allowing for safer uranium leach mining. The companion bill, SB 228, is still awaiting the governor’s signature.

“When it comes to natural resource issues, we’re doing all we can to strike that balance across the board,” Ritter said. “Colorado is rich in minerals and energy resources such as oil, natural gas and coal. But we also are rich in environmental resources such as clean water, incredible wildlife and rugged mountains that must be protected.”

The situation is somewhat different in Utah, where a company is forging ahead with a new uranium mill. Earlier this spring, Mancos Resources announced plans to build a uranium processing facility 6 miles west of the town of Green River.

While the details remain sketchy, the company intends to receive ore from the Paradox Valley, Hanksville and San Raphael Swell areas. With the White Mesa Mill operating south of Blanding and Energy Fuels Inc. moving forward with plans to build a mill in Paradox Valley, the Green River mill would be the third uranium-processing facility in the Four Corners and one of four in the entire country.

In an interesting twist, the mill could join a nuclear power plant that has also been pitched for Green River. Transition Power Development has said that Green River is among the sites it is exploring, and the name of the project, Blue Castle Project, comes from a butte just north of the town. 


New Concert Hall director tapped

Durango’s biggest stage now has new leadership. Fort Lewis College has hired Charles Leslie, of Austin, Texas, as the manager of the Community Concert Hall at Fort Lewis College manager.

Leslie is the current interim director for the University of Texas at Austin Performing Arts Center, where he is responsible for presenting arts series, music events, dance and opera, and producing academic theatre. He also has managed fund-raising and capital campaigns, facility maintenance and renovation, community outreach, strategic planning, and faculty, staff and public relations.

“I am very, very excited about the opportunity to work at Fort Lewis College and become a member of the Durango Community,” Leslie said. “With the Community Concert Hall’s excellent history of booking and programming and outstanding staff, it is an honor to join such a vibrant community and an outstanding organization.”

Leslie will step into the position vacated by Gary Penington who stepped down in April after nearly 12 years at the helm of the Concert Hall. Penington is continuing to promote larger concerts like next week’s Beach Boys show.

With Penington’s tenure in mind, Steve Schwartz, FLC Vice President for Finance and Administration, stated, “While Gary Penington’s leadership will be missed, we are extremely fortunate and pleased to hire a new concert hall manager who brings the experience and background that Mr. Leslie provides. He comes at an exciting time, as we are now entering our second decade in the Community Concert Hall.”

Leslie will begin work at Fort Lewis in early August.

City Council takes up safe passages

One of Durango’s most troubled roadways is going before the public this week. The City of Durango is hosting a public information meeting regarding safety and proposed improvements to Florida Road and other roads and intersections within the city.  The session is scheduled for 6 p.m., Thus., May 29, in City Council Chambers.

In 2008, the bicycle community recommended that improvements be made to Florida Road to provide for greater safety for bicyclists, pedestrians and drivers. Other roads in and around the city are also in need of repair and widening to accommodate bicyclists including East Animas Road and 32nd Street. Citizens have expressed an interest in a safer crossing of Camino del Rio and other arterial streets. 

On Thursday, the City Council will determine whether or not to put the question to voters with a bond issue. Successful passage of the bond would allow construction to begin in 2009.

However, this is also familiar territory for Florida Road. The byway, which carries more than 12,000 cars per day, was the subject of a bond election in 2001. At that time, voters did not grant approval to proceed with reconstruction, which would have added a center turn lane, bicycle lanes, curbs, gutters and sidewalks.

The public meeting will be an opportunity for the community to provide ideas on their priorities and desires for improvements, including aesthetic considerations and traffic signal locations. Those unable to attend may provide their comments via e-mail at

Another power plant bites the dust

The future of coal-fired power suffered another smudge last week. A coal company announced it will postpone construction on a 500-megawatt facility because of the potential for future carbon taxing.

Westmoreland Power Inc. pulled the plug on a planned coal-fired power plant in North Dakota on May 21, according to an Associated Press report. The decision to snuff that project that has been seven years in planning was made as the U.S. Congress prepares legislation to regulate carbon dioxide emissions.

The Colorado Springs-based company related the uncertainty of future regulation in a letter to the North Dakota Industrial Commission. The letter went on to express skepticism about finding long-term customers for the plant and added that potential carbon regulation has “slowed the development of coal-fired power plants.”

The announcement also came on the heels of a substantial decline in Westmoreland’s first quarter profits. Profits for the quarter ending March 31 were down nearly $10 million from 2007. Nonetheless, Keith E. Alessi, Westmoreland director and CEO, was putting on a happy face for shareholders and noted that the company is restructuring.

“We are beginning to see the positive effects of our sharpened focus, standardization of operations and reduced overhead as compared to our operations a year ago,” he said.

– Will Sands