Quick N' Dirty

Wilderness open house in Silverton
Supporters and opponents of the San Juan Mountain Wilderness Act get another shot to speak out, this time at the Town Hall in Silverton.

Staff members for Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Colo, plan to hold an open house forum on the San Juan Wilderness Proposal from 5:30-7:30 p.m. on Thursday in Silverton. The Congressman will not be in attendance.

This will be the second open house sponsored by Tipton. A third is planned for Telluride, although a time and place have not been determined.
The first meeting, held in Ouray with about 450 people in attendance, was surrounded by speculation.

Proponents of the wilderness bill accused Tipton and members of a local Republican party of deliberately trying to pack a meeting to discuss the plan last month in Ridgway so supporters could not be heard. Republicans are accusing environmentalists who back the plan of using the same tactics.

The open houses are intended to gauge public opinion on the wilderness plan, which would protect 61,682 acres in Southwest Colorado as federal wilderness or special management areas.

It was originally proposed by U.S. Rep. John Salazar, D-Colo., in 2009. However it did not pass the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives before Salazar gave up his seat to Tipton in January.

The bill has now been picked up and co-sponsored in the Senate by Mark Udall, D-Colo, and Michael Bennett, D-Colo. Udall and Bennett reintroduced the proposal in September, and have been looking to Tipton for support. The legislation must pass both houses, so Tipton plays a key role.

The permanently protected lands would include 3,170 acres in the Lizard Head Wilderness Area; 21,606 acres in the Mount Sneffels Wilderness Area; 8,614 acres in the Lower Dolores River Basin creating the McKenna Peak Wilderness Study Area; and, 21,697 acres in San Juan and San Miguel counties, including the Ice Lakes basin outside Silverton and the high alpine peaks near Ophir.

In addition, 6,595 acres would be withdrawn from mineral leasing eligibility in Naturita Canyon near Norwood.

Not all lands would suddenly be off limits though. Existing uses of these lands, like heli-skiing and the Hardrock 100 ultramarathon, would still be allowed indefinitely.

Paul Joyce, program director for Rocky Mountain Wild, said the bill will not include any road closures and no mine closures.
Joyce said there has been a lot of consultation and compromise over the past few years, and he expects a good crowd to show up in Silverton.

Representatives from Rocky Mountain Wild will be in attendance. Other supporters include the San Juan Citizen’s Alliance, Sheep Mountain Alliance and Wilderness Society.The county commissions for San Miguel, Ouray and San Juan counties, the three affected most by the legislation, have also supported it.

4CORE names executive director
The Four Corners Office for Resource Efficiency, or 4CORE, has named Gregg Dubit as its new executive director. Dubit, of Hesperus, will be replacing former director Aileen Tracy, who left the post last June.

Dubit, the manager of the 4CORE weatherization program, had been interim executive director prior to taking the new position. He also owns the Durango Dog Ranch. “I am honored to have been selected after a rigorous hiring process and take the responsibilities very seriously,” said Gregg. “I look forward to leading 4CORE’s evolution with a tremendously talented staff and board.”

Dubit was offered the position after an open hiring process, including rigorous competition and multiple interviews, according to a 4CORE press release. He said he looks forward to building on the successes of 4CORE and working to make the organization an even more effective information hub. In his new role, he will continue to oversee projects, including the implementation of the five-county Resource and Energy Action Plan; a new Resource Smart Business Program; and a potential expansion of weatherization services to all income levels.

Tracy, who moved to Colorado Springs, opened 4CORE in May 2008. It provides programs, services and education on wise use of resources. It is funded by the state, La Plata Electric Association, Empire Electric Association, La Plata County, the City of Durango and the Town of Ignacio.

EPA approves Piñon Ridge tailings pond
 The Environmental Protection Agency has issued a conditional permit for a tailings pond at the proposed Piñon Ridge uranium mill in Paradox Valley.

The approval comes on the heels of a federal court ruling that ordered environmental impact statements for uranium mines throughout the West.  

The conditional approval requires Vancouver-based Energy Fuels Inc. to submit a comprehensive ground and surface water-monitoring plan, subject to additional EPA review and approval.

Area environmental groups, which oppose the mill, expressed doubt over whether Energy Fuels’ plans will pass muster.

“Our concern with the 40-acre tailings impoundment and 30-acre evaporation pond at the Piñon Ridge Mill continues to be a great risk to the Dolores River and tground water in Paradox Valley,” said Hilary White, executive director of Sheep Mountain Alliance.  “Energy Fuels still has not submitted final, detailed construction plans for the tailings ponds to any agency and hasn’t demonstrated that they can prevent leaks and radioactive, toxic chemical and heavy metal contamination of the watershed.”

The EPA issued the permit to Energy Fuels late last month based upon what opponents say are outdated federal radon regulations. Those regulations were successfully challenged in court in 2009, and the EPA agreed to bring them into compliance. A draft of the new regulations is expected in January 2012.

The current 1980s-era radon regulations contain no monitoring requirements and no emissions-reduction technologies, only a 40-acre limitation on size. Sheep Mountain Alliance opposed the permit during the comment period based on the outdated regulations.

“Although we are disappointed with the EPA’s decision to proceed under the outdated radon regulations, we appreciate that they opted to make this approval conditional,” White said.

The EPA’s approval came a week after a federal judge ordered an environmental impact statement on many of the leased mines expected to supply Piñon Ridge. Energy Fuels must still obtain air emissions and groundwater permits from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
– Missy Votel and Tracy Chamberlin