Judge overturns license for uranium mill

New public hearing to be held for planned Paradox Valley facility

DENVER – A Denver judge has overturned the license for a new uranium mill in Montrose County until the state holds a new hearing.

Both the mill’s owner and its critics found something to like in Wednesday’s ruling.

Sheep Mountain Alliance sued the state over its approval in winter 2011 of a radioactive materials license for Energy Fuels, a company seeking to build the country’s first uranium mill in a generation.

The Piñon Ridge mill would be in the Paradox Valley, west of Naturita.

Denver Senior District Judge John McMullen ruled that the state broke the law on the type of public hearings that need to be held before a license can be issued. He ordered the state to hold a new hearing within 75 days of July 5.

“There is no longer a license to operate a uranium mill in the state of Colorado,” said Hilary White, executive director of Sheep Mountain Alliance, in a prepared statement. “Throughout this lengthy review process, we have insisted that the state process should be conducted fairly and that we were denied our rights to a formal public hearing.”

The state Department of Public Health and Environment held two public meetings about the Piñon Ridge mill. But Sheep Mountain Alliance and the towns of Telluride and Ophir argued that the law requires a formal hearing, with sworn witnesses and the chance for the sides to cross-examine each other.

However, Energy Fuels officials celebrated the fact that McMullen ruled against the plaintiffs on their claims that potential groundwater and air pollution from the mill had not been carefully examined, and that the bond the state requires of Energy Fuels was inadequate.

“We are generally pleased with the outcome of today’s decision,” said the company’s CEO, Stephen Antony, in a news release. “The decision by Judge McMullen rejected every one of plaintiff’s claims suggesting that our license somehow failed to fully protect public health and the environment on the West Slope. Based on the court’s decision, we are confident that after this procedural issue is resolved, the license will be reissued.”

The state is reviewing the decision, and officials were not ready Thursday to speculate about next steps, said Warren Smith, spokesman for the health department’s Hazardous Materials and Waste Management Division.

“It is important to note, however, that the court ruled in favor of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment on 10 out of 11 of the plaintiff’s claims,” Smith said.

This spring, Energy Fuels bought the U.S. assets of its rival Denison Mines, which includes an operational uranium mill in Southeast Utah.

Energy Fuels officials say they intend to secure a state license to build the Piñon Ridge mill, but they have not decided whether to actually build it.

jhanel@durangoherald.com

Comments » Read and share your thoughts on this story