Four Corners Plant to undergo EIS
The Four Corners Power Plant is looking to expand operations over the next few decades, which has triggered an environmental review process for the 2040-megawatt facility west of Farmington.

Local residents will have a chance to learn more and weigh in from 4-8 p.m. Thurs., Aug. 16, at the Durango Public Library.

The plant, which is operated by Arizona Public Service Co., is looking to extend operations until 2041. The current operating agreement expires in 2016. Meanwhile, operators of the adjacent Navajo Coal Mine, which supplies the plant’s coal, is proposing a new mine as well as renewal of the permit for its existing mine to meet the plant’s demands over the next 25 years.

The mine is operated by BHP Billiton, of Australia. The Bureau of Indian Affairs will oversee approval of the plant, with the Office of Surface Mining, Reclamation and Enforcement overseeing the mine approval.

The environmental impact statement will examine the entire comeplex’s effects on air, water and cultural resources and could take years to complete. It will be the first time the plant, on the edge of the Navajo Nation, has undergone such scrutiny.

Environmental groups lauded the review. The Four Corners plant, along with its smaller neighbor, the San Juan Generating Station, have been in operation since the 1960s and are considered among the dirtiest in the nation.

 “What we have down there are two very old, very polluting coal-fired plants,” said Josh Joswick, of the San Juan Citizens Alliance. “Right now they are emitting everything from mercury to greenhouse gasses, nitrogen oxide and CO2. This pollution is not confined to New Mexico. We’re in the same airshed here.”

The plants escaped regulation under the Clean Air Act and were grandfathered in under the assumption they were about to shut down. However, they did not. In 2011, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed a plan to reduce emissions from the Four Corners Plant, and under increasing pressure, APS has proposed to close three of its five units.

The American Lung Association estimates as many as 16,000 people in the region could suffer from lung disease caused by Four Corners Power Plant emissions. Each year, it emits 157 million pounds of sulfur dioxide, 122 million pounds of nitrogen oxides and 2,000 pounds of mercury.

The power plant is one of the largest electricity sources in the United States and the plant and mine employ roughly 1,000 people, mostly Native American.

In addition to Durango, the OSM is hosting open houses in Farmington, Shiprock and in Arizona. Public comment to be considered in the EIS will be taken until Sept. 17. The draft EIS is scheduled for the fall of next year but could take longer.

To comment, go to www.wrcc.osmre.gov/FCPPEIS.shtm or call 303-293-5035.

First Trails Fest gets rolling Aug. 18
While skinny tires and asphalt may be on everybody’s minds, fat tires and singletrack will still be getting some play during the upcoming U.S. Pro Cycling Challenge.

The Durango Trails Festival, featuring mountain bike and running events, takes place at the newly completed Twin Buttes trails system Sat., Aug. 18. The time-based event will feature a six-lap and two-lap mountain bike race as well as 30k and 10k foot races on Twin Buttes’ 10 miles of plush new trail.

Event organizer and Trails 2000 director extraordinaire Mary Monroe said the race is taking a cue from the increasingly popular 12 Hours of Mesa Verde race, which is held every spring at Phil’s World. “We thought it would be really cool to create a legendary event like Phil’s World, so we’re going to take a run at it,” said Monroe.

In that spirit of fun, Monroe said organizers are encouraging the team format. There will be divisions for three-men, three-women and three - four person co-ed teams in the mountain bike and 30k running races. There are also categories for solo men and women and singlespeed in the mountain bike bracket.

The event will be followed by an awards ceremony Saturday night at the Discovery Museum.

Monroe said the timing of the race with the U.S. Pro Cycling Challenge was not coincidental, either. “The Trails Fest is to celebrate the new trails and fold it into the weekend,” she said. “It’s a chance to celebrate all forms of cycling in Durango at the same time.”

The race is a fund-raiser for Trails 2000. To register or for more information, go to www.trails2000.org.

New public hearing set for Piñon Ridge
Western Slope residents concerned about the effects of the first uranium processing mill to be built in the United States since 1980 will finally get in their say. Two court-ordered public comment sessions on the proposed Piñon Ridge Uranium Mill will take place Oct. 15 and Nov. 7 in Nucla. There will also be a weeklong hearing on the proposed mill, the week of Nov. 7, which will offer more in-depth testimony and cross-examining opportunities.
The hearing is the result of a lawsuit brought against the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and Energy Fuels Resources, the mill’s developer by Telluride-based conservation group Sheep Mountain Alliance, and the towns of Ophir and Telluride. The plaintiffs sued in 2011 when the state issued Energy Fuels its radioactive materials license, alleging a shortcut of the public comment process.

In June this year, Denver District Judge John McMullen agreed, finding that the state had conducted an unlawful review process. The state and Energy Fuels were sent back to square one to initiate a new public review process, including a review of the environmental impacts from the mill.
“We are pleased that the public will finally get a formal chance to scrutinize this proposal,” said Hilary White, executive director of Sheep Mountain Alliance. “As a party in this hearing process, we will continue to ensure that the clean air and clean water of this region are protected.”

The formal hearing process will be overseen by an independent hearing officer, Richard Dana, who will have serve as an administrative law judge. The hearings will also allow organizations and individuals to enter the proceedings more formally by submitting evidence and testimony and cross-examining witnesses. The state is also required to consider all new information before making a decision on whether to grant a new license to Energy Fuels. The final deadline for the licensing decision is April 27, 2013.

 “Judge McMullen’s invalidation of the license highlights the need for careful and searching review of the actions of Colorado’s radiation regulators,” said Travis Stills, a Durango attorney with the Energy & Conservation Law Center who is representing Sheep Mountain. “It has been widely recognized and reported that the relationship between the CDPHE and the uranium industry is too cozy. The administrative hearing will provide the first real inquiry into Energy Fuels’ proposed mill and plan to dispose of the radioactive wastes.”

Western Slope residents and multiple organizations have raised concerns about the proposed mill, which would be built on 800 acres of ranch land in Paradox Valley, between the Dolores and San Miguel rivers. Those concerns include potential for water contamination; radioactive waste and tailings disposal; air pollutants and emissions; insufficient bonding; human and wildlife health impacts; and water availability.

“Western Colorado – including my home town of Grand Junction – is already pock-marked with radioactive mill tailings and the associated contamination of soil and water,” said Janet Johnson, a Grand Junction resident and opponent of the mill. “If Energy Fuels cannot prove that its proposal avoids the environmental contamination and public health impacts that have accumulated for the past half-century, Energy Fuel’s proposal to establish yet another radioactive waste site in Colorado should be denied.”

– Tracy Chamberlin and Missy Votel






                              

In this week's issue...

December 12, 2019
Gimme shelter

I spot a few cars parked along the road near the Purple Cliffs. I pull over, messing with my purse and worrying about locking the doors

December 5, 2019
Power in numbers

La Plata Electric Association has been trying to increase local renewable energy production for the past several years.

November 27, 2019
Dishing up cultural perspective

I haven’t any family close by to celebrate Thanksgiving with this year (except my darling husband), but I still have my friends, and I greet the day with an attitude of gratitude.