New report: uranium mill would hurt tourism, recreation, residential industries near Telluride

A new study commissioned by an environmental group opposed to a proposed uranium mill in far western Colorado concludes the project could adversely impact economic growth in the area because of potential radiation contamination and the stigma of a new nuclear boom.

Produced for the Telluride-based Sheep Mountain Alliance, which is suing to stop the proposed Piñon Ridge Mill in Montrose County, the new report (pdf) found that the outdoor recreation, tourism and residential sectors (both retirees and new residents) would be hurt by an upsurge in uranium mining activity in the area.

Those economic sectors have carried the area since the 1980s when the last major uranium mining boom “cratered,” according to the report, and Energy Fuels – the Canadian company currently applying to state for proper permitting – has overestimated the number of jobs the new mill would create.

Independent financial analysis of Energy Fuels indicates the company needs a substantial injection of investment capital to complete the project as proposed – let alone pay for cleanup in the event of an environmental disaster or even just a shutdown due to the volatility of uranium prices on the global market.

State health officials have told The Colorado Independent they consider such factors in issuing permits for milling operations. Montrose County already issued a controversial special use permit for the project – citing the potential economic benefits and the need for more domestically produced energy – and the state decision is expected next month.

The impacts to the area’s tourism and outdoor recreation sectors, including skiing in the winter and mountain biking, hiking and camping in the summer, were hotly debated during the county hearings, with many in more rural Montrose County objecting to the intrusion by residents from the more affluent town of Telluride and surrounding San Miguel County.

The new study also found that nearly as many jobs could be generated by cleaning up abandoned uranium mines in the area as the new mill would produce.

“This report reveals the economic risks from the mill could be substantial, while the economic jolt it can offer will be quite modest,” said Thomas Power, a University of Montana economics professor who authored the report.

“As state regulators weigh whether to approve this new mill, they must take into account the risks local communities may face from its construction,” he added. “Indeed, the successful industries that emerged in the wake of the last uranium bust in the region could suffer.”

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