Proposed uranium mill creates culture clash in Montrose County

The debate over a uranium mill proposed by a Canadian company in the western end of Montrose County has come down to a question of what people would rather have in their back yard: uranium processing, farms and ranches, or multi-million-dollar McMansions fueled by the outdoor recreation and tourism industry?

The Telluride Daily Planet reported that last week’s Montrose County commissioner’s hearing on a special use permit for a uranium mill proposed by Energy Fuels became a jobs debate, with longtime mining families touting the potential employment while an army of Audi and Prius drivers from the tony ski resort of Telluride invaded Nucla High School to champion their way of life.

Caught in the middle were farmers and ranchers who fear uranium dust from the Piñon Ridge Mill will seriously curtail the agrarian way of life in the bucolic Paradox Valley.

A sampling of quotes from all sides:

“All the West has mining history. It’s a boom or bust industry. The towns that have survived are the ones that have farmers. Nucla and Naturita would not have survived the mining busts without agriculture.”

— Vernie Demille, owner of Paradise Family Farms CSA in Paradox Valley

“The recreation-based economy is important to Gateway and up and down Highway 141. The proposed mill is in direct conflict with the recreation business because of transportation safety, environmental impact, the numbers of trucks and public perception of the area.”

— John Williams, attorney for the John Hendricks family, owners of Gateway Canyons Resort

“I’m an environmentalist. Uravan and Moab [uranium mining] was a bad idea … but Telluride is a bad idea … They carved up a mountain in the name of recreation … Our dump trucks and our garbage trucks are driving up to Telluride every day. … Up there they say, ‘We don’t want oil and gas mining, but keep that oil and gas coming.’”

— Thomas Kyle of Norwood

But by far the best quote of the night came from mill backer Chris Daniels of Nucla: “I hope you guys have a safe drive home. The deer are not glowing in the dark yet, so we gotta be careful.”

The commissioners did not make a decision on the special use permit, which has already won the nod of approval from the county planning commission. The county commissioners are expected to make a decision at a September meeting.

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