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Fort Collins Coloradoan

Article published Sep 18, 2007

Legislators acting on residents' concerns

Randy Fischer and John Kefalas

As Fort Collins legislators, we have received a huge volume of correspondence from residents requesting our assistance to address their concerns over possible uranium mining in northern Weld and Larimer counties, less than 15 miles from Fort Collins.

We first learned of the proposed Centennial Uranium Project from Nunn and Wellington landowners last April. Since that time, we have worked diligently to answer the many significant questions expressed by folks from Northern Colorado. We want to reassure the community that we are taking action on behalf of the people so that the public health, environmental and economic risks posed by Powertech Uranium Corp.'s proposed uranium project are being fully scrutinized.

We are engaging state and federal regulatory agencies, Gov. Ritter's policy people and our colleagues in the state Legislature. As we see this issue, it comes down to protecting the rights of landowners and our precious water resources.

In April, we attended a Wellington town-hall meeting organized by landowners living at or near ground zero of the proposed uranium mining. We saw the pain and worry in the eyes of landowners who had received Powertech letters informing them of the company's intent to mine on their properties. Under the so-called split-estate doctrine, state law gives the mining company the power to enter private property for the purposes of accessing the subsurface minerals owned by the company. From the people, we learned about the many significant issues raised by Powertech's proposed uranium project, including the following:

> Violation of landowners' property rights;

> Potential contamination of the local groundwater aquifer that residents depend on for their drinking water and agricultural water supplies;

> Diminished property values;

> Loss of the surface use of landowners' properties;

> Fugitive dust emissions and air pollution;

> Legally protected secrecy of company exploration activities;

> Exploitation of the state's mineral wealth by foreign companies with little, if any, compensation to Colorado residents.

The issues the landowners raised were profound. Their concerns were heartfelt and deep, and they wanted someone to listen and take action. That is why we are actively involved in representing the public interest by taking the following actions:

Dialoguing with officials at the Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety, and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment; touring the affected landowners' properties and attending community meetings; meeting with Powertech Uranium Corp. officials; conducting a thorough review of Colorado mining laws and regulations; holding a series of informational sessions with representatives from Gov. Ritter's office; contacting the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

It is important to note that Powertech has yet to submit an application for mining in the Nunn/Wellington area. In addition, the state of Colorado is a so-called "agreement state." This means that the U.S. NRC and the state have entered into an agreement that gives Colorado the sole jurisdiction over radioactive materials, including uranium mining. Therefore, there is no public comment being taken at this time by either Colorado Mined Land Reclamation Board or the NRC on this or any other uranium mining projects in Colorado, contrary to a recent article by Congresswoman Musgrave.

Please know that, as your state representatives, we are working hard to address issues raised by the prospect of uranium mining in Northern Colorado communities. As your lawmakers, we are currently engaged in administrative and potential legislative measures that will protect property rights, groundwater quality, and public health from risks posed by proposed uranium projects. We invite your comments as we move forward on this important issue.