2009 Piñon Ridge proposal: Too old to stand?

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2009 Piñon Ridge proposal: Too old to stand?

by Emily Hornback, WCC Organizer

This September, Denver District Judge Robert McGahey ruled that the contested license for the Piñon Ridge Uranium Mill needed further review to ascertain if the application from Energy Fuels truly meets “all criteria under state law.”

The order, which temporarily suspends the mill license, sent the license back to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) to determine its legality.

At the crux of the issue is whether or not appropriate action was taken after a court-ordered hearing that took place in November 2012. At that hearing, technical experts testified on behalf of Sheep Mountain Alliance (SMA) and Rocky Mountain Wild (RMW) that Energy Fuel’s application was based on false information and that the environmental review was incomplete.

WCC members also testified at the hearing, expressing concerns about the regional and cumulative impacts of the proposed mill on public health and the regional economy, as well as the lack of sufficient insurance money (bonding) to clean up the mill.

“This process has been mishandled by the state agency from the start and the district court has agreed, again,” stated Hilary Cooper, Executive Director of Sheep Mountain Alliance. “If the state chooses to continue this process, it will be taking action on a 2009 application for a project that will most likely never be built.”

SMA filed a lawsuit against the State of Colorado in February 2011, after the first radioactive materials license was issued to Energy Fuels. The judge agreed with SMA’s challenge and ordered an independent hearing officer to conduct a hearing in November 2012.

The hearing officer did not take action on issues raised during the hearing. Instead, the hearing officer merely sent the file to the state with simple direction to proceed with the license consideration.

The state then issued a second license to Energy Fuels in April 2013. SMA and RMW again challenged the decision and the ruling found that the hearing officer “failed to make a conclusion as to whether Energy Fuels application met all criteria for issuance of a license pursuant”.

In the meantime, Energy Fuels acquired the existing White Mesa Uranium Mill in Blanding, Utah, and admitted that it did not intend to build the Piñon Ridge Mill because of a lack of favorable economic conditions and the redundancy of two mills in close proximity.

In addition, Energy Fuels sold the Piñon Ridge Mill property and other assets to George Glasier, the original founder of Energy Fuels, who is backed by Baobab Asset Management, Inc., a hedge-fund investment group.

“The State has a clear choice here to deny the Energy Fuels application and require a future developer to reapply with an updated application, which must address the conditions on the ground at that time,” Cooper  noted.

Although Glasier and his associates view the ruling in a positive light (according to a 9/10/14 Montrose Daily Press article by Dick Kamp), Energy Fuels has been silent on the issue.

So the license is back in CDPHE hands, and the laundry list of concerns and defects in the mill license application go unanswered. WCC members wonder if they ever will be addressed, or if the project is even relevant today, five years later.

In the same Montrose Daily Press article, even Glasier stated “…if the price stays forever where it is ($32/lbs), then there will be no mining and no milling.”

It is time to move on from the false promises of the Piñon Ridge Mill. As Jeff Parsons, the attorney representing SMA, put it, “It isn’t appropriate just to sell a uranium mill license on the public market to rich speculators and hold a community hostage; the whole thing is wasting everybody’s time.”

As of this writing, Energy Fuels has completed the sale of the Piñon Ridge Mill license to Glasier, although the same license is still being contested in court.

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