MONTROSE PRESS 7-29-15 Mine revival prompts controversy

Jul 29, 2015

Original article posted here:


Nine-thousand feet above the ground, they don’t look like mines — they look like a maze of roads carved into the side of a mesa. But the roads are evidence of hundreds of uranium mines scattered across the San Miguel-Dolores watershed, one of the highest mine densities in the country. None of them are in use, and none of them have been reclamated.

The mines are a point of contention between environmental and community groups and the individuals, corporations and agencies that own them. The majority of the mines are abandoned and on public land. Of the few with active permits, some are in the midst of a 10-year temporary cessation status in which they can remain inactive and not perform reclamation.

Reclamation is the process of restoring mined land by “contouring of land, placement of topsoil, reseeding with native vegetation and careful monitoring to assure success,” according to the National Mining Association.

“The real reason that companies don’t want to clean them up is because they’ve been promising to come back to life all this time, and they haven’t,” said Information Network for Responsible Mining Executive Director Jennifer Thurston. Thurston said after the uranium bust in the 1980s, there hasn’t been a market for the mineral, therefore the mines haven’t been in use.

“With so many mines clustered around the Dolores River … typical risks are radon (exposure), dust, stormwater, flooding and erosion control,” she said.  One of the biggest concerns, Thurston said, was contamination of the Dolores River and San Miguel-Dolores watershed. There are currently no studies or data on the contamination risk of the mines.

Besides mitigating environmental risks, cleaning up the mines would create jobs, and that’s one of the reasons the Western Colorado Congress got involved.

Marv Ballantyne, a board member of the WCC, has been involved with the organization for 30 years.

“We’re now in a bust, and we feel badly about that,” Ballantyne said. “We are concerned about the welfare of the West End (of Montrose County), and we’d like to see them gain sustainable employment. We think clean up would do just that.”

Ballantyne said the WCC got involved to raise awareness about need for mine clean up.

“Nobody locally has the millions to do this clean up,” he said. “It must be federal, and if we can bring attention to this, we an get congressional action. We don’t expect it to happen overnight.”

Thurston, who described herself as an environmentalist, said funding could come from a variety of sources, and that the potential for job creation would help the cause.

“It sort of depends on what direction you go. A state program involves state legislation, and we could also try to get funding from federal agencies,” she said.  “We’re starting to raise awareness and reach out to people and really think about it as an economic boost to the state. Ultimately, it’s good economically for the region and we’re really hoping to create some jobs.”

Jennifer Thurston can be reached at For more information about the Western Colorado Congress, visit

Katie Langford can be reached at 252-7038 or at