Uranium Accountability Act approved

Colorado is holding the feet of the uranium industry to the fire. The Uranium Processing Accountability Act, legislation designed to safeguard communities against radioactive waste, has sailed through the Colorado Legislature and should be signed into law in coming weeks.

The bipartisan bill was inspired by Fremont County’s decades-long struggle to clean up the Cotter Corp.’s Cañon City uranium mill. Ongoing issues at Cotter include groundwater pollution, radon emissions, potential radioactive dust and onsite contamination. In addition, the legislation was introduced just as Cotter started making rumblings about reopening the contaminated site. The law is intended to ensure that communities and taxpayers are not left with the responsibility for cleaning up radioactive waste.

“Actions have consequences, and uranium companies need to cleanup their mess,” said Sen. Ken Kester, R-Las Animas, one of the bill’s sponsors.

The new law also promises to reach well beyond Cañon City. When uranium prices spiked four years ago, prospectors and mining companies started eyeing the deserts of the Western Slope not far from Durango. Local uranium mining got a big nudge in the summer of 2007 when the Department of Energy announced its Uranium Leasing Program. At that time, the agency opened 27,000 additional acres in San Miguel, Montrose and Mesa counties to prospectors seeking the radioactive ore. With this acreage, the DOE estimated that regional mines would produce 2 million tons of unrefined uranium per year.

In response to the new rush, Energy Fuels Inc., a Toronto-based uranium and vanadium mining company, is currently planning the construction of the nation’s first uranium mill in 25 years. The mill would be sited on 1,000 acres of privately owned land in Paradox Valley, halfway between the Dolores and San Miguel rivers. The facility would also be relatively close to the only other operating uranium mill in the U.S. – the White Mesa Mill in Blanding. Energy Fuels hopes to begin construction in 2011, and is currently seeking approval from the State of Colorado. When the Uranium Processing Accountability Act is signed into law, it could safeguard Southwest Colorado from a Cañon City repeat.

The Durango-based Energy Minerals Law Center helped initiate the legislative push, and Travis Stills, an attorney with the nonprofit law firm, called the bill a “welcome step.” He added that Durango’s radioactive legacy is yet another argument in favor of avoiding the mistakes of the past.

Sen. Bob Bacon, D-Fort Collins, another of the bills sponsors, agreed. “Uranium companies have to stop passing the buck on uranium pollution,” he said.

Following speedy passage in the Colorado Senate in late April, the Uranium Processing Accountability Act went back to the House for technical amendments. If all goes as planned, the law will be on Gov. Bill Ritter’s desk as early as next week.


Durango braces for spruce beetles

Durango citizens and officials are preparing for millions of unwelcome visitors. As a spruce beetle epidemic continues to spread through the San Juan Mountains, the Colorado State Forest Service held an informational meeting this week to discuss the beetles’ advancement as well as management strategies.

“Because spruce trees account for the majority of the trees in upper Vallecito Valley forests, it’s important that area landowners find out what may be coming and what they can do to protect their trees,” said Lindsay Gartner, assistant district forester for the CSFS.

A 2009 annual aerial survey of insect and disease activity in Colorado detected 114,000 acres with active spruce beetle infestations. Although La Plata County was not impacted by the spruce beetle last year, approximately 80 percent of affected acreage was in nearby Hinsdale and Mineral counties, primarily in the Weminuche Wilderness.

Gartner said the CSFS wants to make sure La Plata County landowners are prepared to battle the beetles in the event they move into lower-elevation blue spruce. Spruce beetles primarily

infest trees that have blown down in a wind event, but in major outbreaks they will kill large-diameter standing trees that have been stressed by drought, flooding or old age.

“Southwest Colorado has its own unique set of forest insect and disease issues,” said Sky Stephens, CSFS forest entomologist. “The Colorado State Forest Service wants to make sure landowners here have the tools they need to address those issues.”

For more information about bark beetles, visit the Colorado State Forest Service website at www.csfs.colostate.edu.

Ska, Steamworks partner in Bayfield

The balance of beer power is shifting in Durango. This week, Ska Brewing announced that it had reached an agreement with Steamworks Brewing to temporarily use its idle brewing facility in Bayfield. The Steamworks plant will enable the local brewer to temporarily expand its capacity to meet seasonal demand. Steamworks is continuing to shape plans for the facility’s long-term future.

Dave Thibodeau, Ska president and co-founder, explained, “We were talking with our friends at Steamworks recently about the tanks they have in Bayfield, and we reached an agreement to use some of that equipment on a temporary basis. That will allow us to increase capacity to meet demand, and will allow them to keep that equipment in use this summer – so it’s good for both companies.”

Ska’s brewers will be heading out to Bayfield soon, to brew their first batch of beer under this temporary agreement. “We’re glad we can help out our friends at Ska by giving them access to some temporary, additional capacity,” said Kris Oyler, president of Steamworks Brewing Co.

Steamworks had agreed to lease the facility to SEAR Beer Holdings, of Texas, which was planning to rename the facility the “Bayfield Beer Co.” However, SEAR failed to fulfill the terms outlined for lease of the building and use of the brewing equipment.

“It’s probably an understatement to say that we are disappointed,” said Oyler. “We entered into the agreement with SEAR in good faith but they did not fulfill the obligations outlined in the lease, and we could not grant them possession of the building.”

Though Ska will utilize the Steamworks facility this summer, it remains on the market.  

– Will Sands




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January 11, 2024
High and dry

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