Cotter to shut down mill
The Daily Record
Cotter Corp. has announced they will shut down rather than refurbish the Cañon City milling facility, which has operated in the area since 1958. The Uranium Processing Accountability Act, signed by Gov. Bill Ritter on June 8, requires uranium mills to clean existing toxic wastes before continuing new projects.
John Hamrick, vice president of Cotter mill operations, sent a letter to the director of Air and Toxics Technical Enforcement Program Office of Enforcement Compliance and Environmental Justice, dated July 23, stating, “On June, 30, 2010, Cotter Corporations (N.S.L.) submitted a letter to Mr. Steve Tarlton of the Hazardous Materials and Waste Management Division of Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment notifying him of a change in status of the Primary Impoundment at the Cañon City Milling Facility near Cañon City.”
The letter stated that Cotter will “close both the primary and secondary impoundments as soon as reasonably achievable.”
Hamrick goes on to say the Cañon City milling facility began dismantling structures and facilities no longer considered useful to the CCMF. The company no longer will carry out radon flux testing, Hamrick said, at the primary impoundment, because the primary impoundment no longer is an active facility that is subject to 40 CFR Part 61, Subpart W requirements.
Previously stating the mill would reopen, Cotter took local lawmakers by surprise when they told regulators it would discontinue testing for radon emissions at the site because it is no longer an active facility subject to regulation. The mill south of Cañon was designated a Superfund site in 1984, making Cotter responsible for continued monitoring of radon emissions at the milling facility, as well as neighboring Lincoln Park.
Local residents and Colorado Citizens Against ToxicWaste have urged more state oversight in the shutting down process. CCAT member Carl Dunn said Cotter previously covered the secondary impoundment pond without a cohesive plan.
Now, with their latest announcement, her fear, Dunn said, is Cotter will cover the primary impoundment without a plan or further radon emissions testing.
“The public has seen no decommissioning plan,” Dunn said. “Bonding to cover future closure activities is insufficient by millions of dollars. There is no plan to clean up groundwater in Lincoln Park, no transparency and no public input.”
Public information officer for the Colorado Department of Health, Jeannie Natterman, said Cotter has worked toward dewatering (drying out) the impoundments for years.
Since 2005, the plant has remained inactive when about 80 workers were laid off. At that time, company executives said they wanted to review feasibility, as well as costs of re-engineering the mill.
Cotter owns other mines around Colorado, including the Schwartzwalder, which was charged with contaminating a creek that flows into a Denver Water reservoir from that mine. Cotter was fined $55,000 for violations of the Schwartzwalder, with all but $2,500 suspended, on condition that the company complies with an order to pump out contaminated water by Aug. 31.
The Lincoln Park/Cotter Superfund Community Advisory Group will meet from 6 to 8:45 p.m. today at Garden Park High School at 201 N. Sixth St.
Hey, Come Back and Clean This Up
By Dave Rice | Published Wednesday, June 16, 2010
General Atomics, the San Diego manufacturer of the Predator attack drone, has recently come under fire in Colorado, where its wholly owned company the Cotter Corporation operates a uranium mill. The facility produces yellowcake, a concentrated powder suitable for nuclear fuel and weapons. The mill has operated on and off since 1958, with the most recent operations concluding in 2006. Since then, the company claims to have spent $10 million to $15 million on cleanup efforts, but in 2008, Colorado’s Department of Public Health and Environment issued a notice of violation to Cotter, claiming the company had contaminated local groundwater.
General Atomics is privately held by Linden and Neal Blue of Del Mar. The brothers are originally from Colorado. After graduating from Yale, they tried their hand at banana farming in Nicaragua, commercial real estate development in Denver, ranching throughout the Midwest, local politics (Linden was elected and served a term on Denver’s city council), and eventually oil and gas mining. In 1986, they acquired control of San Diego–based General Atomics, a company originally created as a division of General Dynamics in 1955 for the purpose of researching peaceful uses of atomic power. In 1991 the brothers acquired and merged into their operation a floundering drone company, taking its product as the basis for the Predator unmanned aerial vehicle. Linden said at the time that his interest in developing the Predator was largely linked to a desire to help friends in Nicaragua battle Sandinista communist forces.
In addition to the Cotter Corporation, General Atomics is affiliated with at least four other companies — based in Texas, Australia, and Germany — that mine, mill, or otherwise engage in the uranium business. The Texas-based company owns the largest-known uranium deposit in the United States, Mt. Taylor mine in New Mexico.
At the Cotter mill, in Cañon City, ore is crushed and ground, then subjected to leaching chemicals. The extracted uranium, the yellowcake, is usually brown or black — its name derives from the color and texture produced by early milling methods. Uranium typically makes up about 1 percent of the ore. What’s left after milling are the leaching chemicals and the radioactive tailings, which Cotter kept for decades in a tailings pond on its 2600-acre site, covered with water to contain radioactive dust.
Years before General Atomics bought the Cotter Corporation, seepage from the tailings pond contaminated the groundwater of a semirural neighborhood about a mile and a half from the mill. In 1984, the mill and the plume of contaminated groundwater were designated a Superfund site. The company built a new tailings pond with a lining to prevent leakage.
However, in 2007, a new leak was detected, and in July 2008, the state of Colorado told Cotter to fix the problem. A radioactive plume was under the nearby Shadow Hills Golf Course and was spreading toward Cañon City and the Arkansas River.
In the 26 years since the Cotter mill and the plume were designated a Superfund site, Cotter still hasn’t cleaned up the contamination. When Cotter officials announced plans in 2009 to reopen the mill in order to process ore from the New Mexico mine, Cañon City’s state representatives took action. In February they introduced House Bill 1348, which requires uranium mills and mines wishing to expand operations in the state to remediate violations before proceeding. The bill also requires operators to submit an annual status report to owners of wells within one mile of groundwater contamination, and it strengthens bonding requirements to make sure that operators can clean up contamination.
Clean up your old mess before you make a new one — sounds fair enough, right? Not in the eyes of the industry. In response to the proposed legislation, Cotter said it would force the company to abandon its plans to reopen the Cañon City mill.
That Cotter thinks compliance would be so costly speaks volumes, especially given the current political climate surrounding nuclear power. President Obama is a fan of what he calls “clean nuclear” technology, saying in this year’s State of the Union address that we need to build “a new generation of safe, clean nuclear power plants in this country.”
He’s put taxpayers’ money where his mouth is too. Despite a history of cost overruns in American nuclear plant construction, Obama guaranteed Georgia Power an $8 billion loan to construct two new reactors at an existing facility in Burke, Georgia.
SoCal Edison, majority stakeholder in the San Onofre nuclear plant at the northern end of San Diego County, has announced no plans to expand or extend the life of its facility, currently slated to go offline in 2022. But several other projects are in the works around the country, and Obama’s 2011 budget calls for doubling the amount of nuclear loan guarantees to $36 billion.
Worldwide there are 53 new plants under construction, 142 approved and waiting for construction to begin, and 327 more in the planning stages. The U.S. is a significant uranium exporter. Average uranium prices have risen from $7.92 per pound in 2001 to around $40.75 today. Despite the coming increase in demand for nuclear fuel, Cotter said that the cost to clean up the damage the company has caused could render its operation infeasible.
In late April, Colorado’s legislature passed HB 1348, and last week the bill was signed into law. Asked whether the mill will reopen to process the New Mexico ore, Cotter vice president John Hamrick “declined Tuesday to comment on whether that project is indeed dead,” the Denver Post reported on June 9, 2010.
But Colorado activist Sharyn Cunningham believes the contamination can be cleaned up and the mill reopened. According to an April 29, 2010 story in the Pueblo Chieftain, “Cunningham said she’s confident that Cotter’s parent company, General Atomics, has the means to conduct the necessary cleanup.”
Publish Date: 6/9/2010
Gov. Bill Ritter speaks Tuesday before signing House Bill 1348, the Uranium Processing Accountability Act, at the White Water Kayak Recreation Park.
Jeff Shane/Daily Record
Signed and Delivered
Gov. Ritter signs uranium act into law
Gov. Bill Ritter was in Cañon City on Tuesday to sign the Uranium Processing Accountability Act — HB 1348 — into law.
Cotter cleanup requirement gets OK
Posted: Thursday, April 29, 2010 12:00 am
DENVER — Cotter uranium mill must clean up its act or stop taking on new work.
The Senate on Wednesday passed HB1348 by a 22-11 margin. It now awaits the governor's signature to become law.
The bill requires Cotter to address existing pollution before it can accept new materials, a task that company officials said will stand in the way of a large job that would provide the capital necessary to accomplish the pollution mitigation that the state expects.
"My final hope is that we don't make it so tough on Cotter that they can't complete the cleanup that they need to do," said Sen. Ken Kester, R-Las Animas, who sponsored the bill along with Rep. Buffie McFadyen, D-Pueblo West. "On the other hand, if they'd been doing 10 years ago or 20 years ago what we're making them do today, it never would have come to this."
Two groundwater plumes — in the Lincoln Park neighborhood of Canon City and around the city's golf course — have been identified as groundwater contamination sites. The most recent was found in 1992, and Cotter has largely addressed the problem through "natural remediation," or simply letting it dissipate on its own.
"I just know that the water where I live has been contaminated since the 1960s, and Cotter had no plans to clean it," said Sharyn Cunningham, co-chair of Colorado Citizens Against Toxic Waste. "They just planned to watch it, monitor it and let nature clean it."
Cunningham has lived in the Lincoln Park neighborhood for 16 years. Her family used water from a contaminated well for the first eight, then relied on bottled water for another five years before they could afford a city tap.
"I don't want that to happen to anyone else," she said. "I hope that's one thing this bill accomplishes."
The bill requires Cotter to monitor groundwater contamination and report it annually to residents of affected areas. The report must include an explanation of what Cotter is doing to address the pollution.
Cotter has been a federal Superfund site for 25 years with little to show for it. Contamination has not measurably decreased during that time, and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment has cited it for 99 violations during the past decade. Although Kester conceded that since a wholesale change in management of the mill about five years ago, violations have decreased exponentially.
The change came with the arrival of John Hamrick, who manages the mill. He said Wednesday's vote could halt the planned expansion that was going to provide for construction of an up-to-date mill that would have been less harmful to the environment.
Cotter had hoped to begin accepting uranium ore mined at Mount Taylor in New Mexico beginning in August 2014. But before Cotter can accept that material, it must first rectify the existing contamination.
"The bill as passed (Wednesday) will prevent (the Mount Taylor) plan from happening when we planned," Hamrick said. "We will be looking at our future options, including possible legal action."
Hamrick said the standard imposed by HB1348 exceeds those of the 1954 Atomic Energy Act that governs cleanup at sites like Cotter.
If the mill loses the Mount Taylor project, which was expected to bring up to 60 new jobs to the plant that now employs 31, Hamrick said cleaning up contamination to the extent that the state expects may not be possible.
"There are some in the community that would like to see Cotter disappear," Hamrick said. "There's a very low possibility of that happening."
If it did, Kester is worried that the state would be stuck with the expense of the cleanup.
Cunningham said she's confident that Cotter's parent company, General Atomics, has the means to conduct the necessary cleanup, especially if it covets the Mount Taylor job.
"Now it's in Cotter's hands," she said. "If they want to expand and process Mount Taylor ore, they know just what they have to do."
Uranium cleanup bill clears House
“It’s great to be here,” Ritter said.
He signed the bill at the Whitewater & Kayak Recreation Park as the river roared behind him.
“You’re going to be impacted by how we approach uranium milling and how we approach uranium permitting,” he said.
The bill was sponsored by Sens. Ken Kester, Bob Bacon and Rep. Buffie McFadyen.
The law requires uranium processors to comply with clean-up orders before new applications are processed, strengthen public oversight of bonding requirements; require processors to inform residents about threats to their water if they have registered wells in close proximity to known groundwater contamination; and require processors to amend their operating license before accepting new sources of “alternate feeds.”
“Nobody thinks uranium is an inherently evil thing, it’s just evil if you lose stewardship of it,” Ritter said. “We believed it was the right thing to move this forward.”
The governor said this law would give the state a better hold on uranium milling.
“Thank you for your advocacy,” he told the crowd of about 50.
The Fremont County Commissioners were represented by Mike Stiehl, who spoke to the crowd for himself and Kester, who could not attend.
“I support industry, but industry has to clean up after itself,” Stiehl said.
He said the bill is not just about the problem that Cotter Corp., and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment have faced.
“It is about Colorado’s participation in the new energy economy,” he said. “Clean industries will be important to allow energy production in this era of higher population density and water shortages.”
Stiehl added the law provides industry with a “carrot” as opposed to a “stick.”
“No longer will industry be tempted to do as little as possible in clean-up efforts, fearing only token fines,” he said. “Now, industry has an incentive: If you want your business to thrive into the future, then it is in your own best interest to clean up your contamination immediately.”
Sharyn Cunningham, co-founder of Colorado Citizens Against ToxicWaste, also spoke at the signing ceremony.
“I want to thank Gov. Ritter, especially, for coming all the way here to celebrate with us and sign this bill,” she said. “Healthy communities depend on clean air and clean water.”
Cunningham also said often taxpayers have been left to pick up the bill for clean up, spending $1 billion in Colorado alone on the effort.
“This bill ensures that polluters, not taxpayers, will take care of that clean up,” she said.
She thanked the people who worked “tirelessly” to pass the bill.
“This is proof that ordinary people can make a difference,” she said. “You helped secure a cleaner future for generations to come in the state of Colorado.”
McFadyen, who will be leaving the Legislature at the end of this year, said she started and is ending her career with legislation about uranium milling.
“Contamination is not about a political party,” she said. “The bill is important for the whole of Colorado.”
McFadyen said she wanted to “set the record straight.”
“This doesn’t prevent any uranium mill from doing business, if they do business properly,” she said.
Cotter Corp. mill officials have said the bill will make it impossible for them to begin processing ore again in the future.
In 2009, the company announced a plan to reopen as a heap leach facility in 2014, processing ore from the Mount Taylor mine in New Mexico.
“We do expect to meet with CDPHE and discuss all the ramifications now that the bill has been signed,” said John Hamrick, vice president of milling at Cotter.
He said the meeting is scheduled for later in the week.
McFadyen doesn't believe it could shut the plant.
Posted: Wednesday, April 7, 2010 12:00 am
DENVER — Stricter rules governing expanded operations and public notification of pollution hazards for Cotter uranium mill in Canon City were passed in the House on Monday.
By a vote of 62-2, HB1348 sponsored by state Rep. Buffie McFadyen, D-Pueblo West, advanced. Its next stop will be a Senate committee.
Cotter officials testified before a House committee that the bill would be "a poison pill" for the plant, while Canon City residents testified that the poison from the uranium processing plant has been tainting groundwater there for decades.
"I vehemently disagree that this would close the Cotter mill," McFadyen said. "It doesn't affect their current operation, and only requires them to clean up the mess they've made before accepting new waste they aren't already permitted to process."
Cotter has been a federal Superfund cleanup site for more than 25 years, but residents of the polluted areas around Canon City have complained that little has been done in the way of cleanup during that time.
During the past decade Cotter has been cited for violations 99 times by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. Company officials have said very few of those violations have occurred since a wholesale change in management personnel about five years ago.
Under the bill, uranium processors would be required to clean up existing contamination before they are permitted to accept new materials, as Cotter has proposed to do beginning later this year.
Company officials have said the expansion would create up to 100 jobs at the uranium processing site that now has 31 employees.
The bill also would require annual reports from processors to residents of areas near groundwater plumes of uranium contamination. They would include updated reports on the status of the contamination and the steps taken to address them.
Another portion of the bill requires uranium processors to carry bonds sufficient to pay for cleanup of contamination, rather than saddling taxpayers with the cost.
"This bill supports protecting taxpayer dollars and the health of anyone living near Cotter or downstream from Fremont County along the Arkansas River," McFadyen said.
Bill focuses on cleanup of uranium mills
A bill that would further regulate uranium processing in the state could have little impact on a proposed Western Slope facility, the owner of that local mill said.
Though the measure could affect one operating near Canon City, the planned Piñon Ridge mill 12 miles west of Naturita already would be required under existing laws to do much of what House Bill 1348 calls for, said George Glasier, president and CEO of Energy Fuels Inc., which is hoping to open the first uranium mill in the nation in 25 years.
Glasier said the measure, introduced by several southern Colorado lawmakers, is aimed at the Cotter Uranium Mill in Fremont County, which has been plagued with contamination problems since the late 1950s.
The lawmakers said they introduced the measure to deal with long-standing concerns over cleanup of that mill, parts of which already are a federal Superfund cleanup site.
The bill is aimed at existing mills that release radioactive material into the groundwater, requiring them not only to report how it is being cleaned up, but also ensuring they have set aside enough cash to pay for it, said Rep. Buffie McFadyen, D-Pueblo West, and the bill’s sponsor.
It would bar mills from expanding operations until the contamination is removed, she said.
John Hamrick, Cotter’s vice president of milling, said the measure could put his mill out of business.
“Cotter has a substantial history of violations ... and I’m not here to defend that record,” he told the House Transportation and Energy Committee, which approved the bill unanimously Thursday. “It’s not a good record at all, and it’s something that has to be acknowledged before it can get better.”
But Hamrick, who took control of milling operations at Cotter in 2006, said he’s corrected many of those problems, adding that executives who ran the facility before that time have either resigned, retired or were fired.
The bill would make it harder for Cotter to get the site cleaned and make it impossible for other sites, including ones not yet opened, to stay in business, he said.
“The bill as written essentially will prevent uranium milling within the state because of language concerning release of materials,” Hamrick said. “If you have a shovel full of uranium ore and you dump it on the ground, at that point you have a release that would exceed standards. That’s a poison pill for uranium mills.”
McFadyen, however, said it’s not unreasonable for the state to expect that shovel of uranium to be cleaned up before going back to work.
Tougher rules sought on cleaning toxic sites in Colorado
Jan 26, 2010 REPORTER: JASON AUBRY. KKTV.COM
Posted: 03/17/2010 01:00:00 AM MDT
Updated: 03/17/2010 02:20:41 AM MDT
Coloradans frustrated with an unfinished 25-year Superfund cleanup at a uranium mill are pushing to tighten state standards and prevent future disasters.
The Colorado Medical Society, Fremont County commissioners and an array of economic and activist groups have endorsed legislation — up for discussion by state lawmakers this week — that would require uranium-processing companies to clean up existing toxic waste before launching new or expanded operations.
The legislation also would:
• Require companies to notify residents within 1 mile of a mill when groundwater may be contaminated
• Give communities a voice in the review of company bond money assurance for a cleanup and plans to import radioactive materials.
"We want to make sure the mistakes of the past are not repeated when it comes to uranium mining in our state," said Sharyn Cunningham, leader of Colorado Citizens Against Toxic Waste.
"There's contamination right now that has not been cleaned up, and it needs to be cleaned up before we put our trust in the companies to do it differently this time," said Cunningham, whose family suffered health problems that she links to contamination from the shuttered Cotter Corp. uranium mill south of Cañon City.
"If our state's going to support creating fuel for nuclear reactors, then we need strong laws to protect the environment and people of the state."
The Colorado Mining Association and Cotter have hired lobbyists to try to persuade legislators to kill the bill.
"It's a legislative fix to a technical problem, and generally those things don't work out well," Cotter vice president John Hamrick said. "Under this bill, no mill would be able to operate in this state."
Fremont County authorities back the legislation because groundwater contamination from the Cotter mill is spreading toward Cañon City, and Cotter plans to reopen, said County Commissioner Mike Stiehl.
"There will be other mill sites, if nuclear takes off," Stiehl said. "State health officials are driven to do cleanups, but they just can't. They're prohibited by not having enough arrows in their quiver. This would be another arrow."
State Sens. Ken Kester, R-Las Animas, and Bob Bacon, D-Fort Collins, and Rep. Buffie McFadyen, D-Pueblo West, embraced the effort.
Cotter and Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment overseers "didn't always get things done," Kester said. "This legislation is just going to put some teeth into what they should do."
The health department "is neutral on this bill," spokesman Mark Salley said.
A state-supervised Superfund cleanup of the Cotter mill has lagged after repeated violations with toxic tailings leaching into groundwater. The "dewatering" of impoundment ponds at the mill, intended to stop contamination of groundwater, has left toxic tailings exposed to the air.
A federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry public health assessment, required by law since 1985, still has not been completed.
Cotter executives notified state regulators a year ago that they plan to reopen in 2014, to crush and chemically leach 500,000 tons per year of uranium hauled by train from a mountain in New Mexico, for 25 years.
New Rules For Uranium Mills Possible
For eight years Sharyn Cunningham and her family drank from a well contaminated by radioactive and toxic waste. It wasn't until the local uranium mill wanted to bring in toxic material from New Jersey that they became aware it was still operational.
Having purchased their home in 1993, Cunningham says her family was never told about the potential contamination of ground water because of long-time leaking tanks at the mill located near Canon City. Recently the mill’s owner, the Cotter Corporation, submitted a proposal for cleaning up their leaking tanks, but Cunningham says it's too little too late.
Tuesday Cunningham, as part of Citizens Against Toxic Waste (CCAT), joined with Environment Colorado, local elected leaders, and businessmen to announce a new piece of legislation lawmakers will be given in the next few weeks.
The act has four major parts. It requires uranium mills to clean up any toxic waste before applying to expand or re-open; it requires that residents are notified on an annual basis about potential contamination to ground water; it addresses licensing for taking care of toxic materials from sources other than the uranium they are milling; and finally, it would allow for more scrutiny on bonding, so that if the company were to fold, taxpayers would not be on the hook for cleaning up the mess.
Supporters of the act say it's long overdue. "Taxpayers have given a $1 billion bailout to uranium milling companies to clean up past mill sites, just in the state of Colorado," says Matt Garrington, spokesman for Environment Colorado.
Right now, radioactive and toxic waste is suspected to be contaminating the ground water beneath the golf course downhill from the mill. Just a few miles away, is the Arkansas River. The potential movement of contaminated water to the river has many businessmen and recreational outdoors enthusiasts concerned.
"I'm interested in them cleaning up their mess, and we want to keep them around to clean up their mess and hold them accountable for cleaning up their mess. And that's what it is, it's a mess," says local businessman Bill Edrington.
The proposed legislation is being sponsored by Representative Buffie McFadyen (D - Pueblo West) and Senators Ken Kester (R- Las Animas) and Bob Bacon (D - Fort Collins.) Supporters of the act are pleased that it has bi-partisan sponsorship and have high hopes for it passing.
See the video clip from KKTV: www.kktv.com/home/headlines/82748687.html#
read more... www.chieftain.com/articles/2010/01/27/business/local/doc4b5fbc6c82b1d635576549.txt
"I am not an advocate for frequent changes in laws and constitutions, but laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths discovered and manners and opinions change, with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors." Jefferson Memorial.
*(see Notices of Violation below)
Friday, April 3, 2009 (click on photo to enlarge)
The Cotter Corporation, a subsidiary of General Atomics, began operating a uranium mill on the outskirts of Canon City, Colorado, in 1958. Liquid wastes containing radionuclides and heavy metals were discharged from 1958 to 1978 into eleven unlined tailings ponds. The ponds were replaced in 1982 with the construction of two lined impoundments. Prior to 1982, a number of Lincoln Park wells showed elevated levels of contamination. The site was placed on the National Priorities List (NPL) of Superfund sites on September 21, 1984.
We overlaid flood data from FEMA showing areas at high risk of flooding that cross the Cotter facility and lead directly into residential neighborhoods just one mile from the site. Check out our small gallery of images.
Data source: FEMA Stay-Dry flood data (a Google Earth file)