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Pinion Ridge Mill In Limbo, Again

The Pinion Ridge Uranium Mill is in the middle of some uncertainty, and not for the first time. 

The whole issue goes back to 2012.  The state had issued a license to the Energy Fuels Corporation, basically giving them the go ahead to work with radioactive materials.  An environmental group, the Sheep Mountain Alliance, issued a legal protest, though, saying Colorado didn’t follow the right steps when they gave Energy Fuels the license. 

A district judge agreed, trashed the license, and told the state to have a different judge hold a hearing so everything could be addressed.  They did.  The hearing officer then gave the go ahead to the state to reissue the license. 

Last year in 2013, Sheep Mountain Alliance, along with other environmental groups, protested again.  They pretty much said that the hearing officer didn’t follow the right steps, again.    

Just recently, a Denver judge agreed with them again.  The license is on hold, and the judge has ordered a new hearing. 

Jennifer Opelia is the Radiation Program Manager for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.  She oversees pretty much everything regarding radiation, from X-rays to the proposed Pinion Ridge Uranium Mill.  She says that all this legal back-and-forth is only part of the problem facing the Mill. 

"They have not started construction on the Mill for a number of reasons, including the legal actions as well as the economic conditions.  The price of Uranium has been rather low in the last 5 years, and that hasn't made it feasible to process uranium," Opelia says.

That’s the kicker in all this.  Energy Fuels doesn’t even want to develop the Mill.  They’re trying to sell it.  Since the price dropped, Energy Fuels just bought an existing Mill in Utah, and they’re trying to sell everything attached to Pinion Ridge, including the license, to someone else.  Right now, nobody’s sure if they CAN sell the license. 

"We're currently working with the Attorney General's office to determine how the [recent court order] affects the transfer of the license," says Opelia.  

The economy seems to be as big a factor in this issue as the environment.  Hillary Cooper is the executive director for sheep mountain alliance.  They’re concerned with all the water the Mill would use as well as pollution and contamination to the water that supplies the nearby towns.  Hillary says the economy is also a big issue. 

We've also developed a very strong concern for the communities in the West End that this Mill would potentially impact," says Cooper, "In our experience with this project, we've realized the significant boom and bust of uranium industry and what that does to that community, leaving it very dependent on an industry that leaves it high and dry more often than not."

"We'd like to see those communities develop more sustainable economic resources based on clean energy solutions, recreation opportunities, cultural opportunities.  Things that are more sustainable in the long run," says Cooper. 

She says that throughout this process, they’ve taken some backlash from locals who may not appreciate what Sheep Mountain Alliance is doing. 

"Absolutely, we've gotten a lot of backlash," says Cooper, "The reality is, we're a small grassroots organization and we don't necessarily have the resources or the strength to shut down this mill if the opportunity is right economically, but it's not.  The price of uranium is lower than it's been in decades and not expected to increase anytime soon, as admitted by the developers.  The conditions just aren't there to see this [mill] happen anytime soon."

"Essentially what we're seeing is a really damaging speculative project that is just dashing the hopes of the folks in that community, so it's been extremely frustrating to watch.  We, of course, have been a scapegoat, which doesn't really matter in the long run," says Cooper.

"We do see the need to both clean up the region, provide jobs from cleanup, and also explore other economic alternatives for that region."

In the end it might be the current economy, and not protests and legal action, that prevents the mill from being built.

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