State court rejects Powertech lawsuit

A lawsuit challenging Colorado regulations to protect groundwater from the effects of uranium mining was dismissed in its entirety by Denver District Court Judge Christina Habas on July 13.

The suit had been filed against the state Mined Land Reclamation Board in November 2010 by Powertech (USA) Inc., a subsidiary of Canadian prospecting company Powertech Uranium Corp. The company had planned to mine uranium on 7,100 acres near Nunn in Weld County using an in situ leach process, in which liquid is injected into ore-bearing rock to loosen and remove the mineral.

Powertech claimed in the suit that provisions of House Bill 1161 and Senate Bill 228 — passed by the Colorado Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Bill Ritter in 2008, with final rules becoming effective Sept. 30, 2010 — were arbitrary, capricious and exceeded Colorado statutory authority. The bills amended the Mined Land Reclamation Act to strengthen protection of groundwater surrounding mines using in situ technology and to require public and local government involvement in the mine-permitting process.

The rules were supported by a diverse range of groups, including Weld County-based Coloradans Against Resource Destruction; Environment Colorado and other conservation groups statewide; Denver Water; and several local governments and affected communities.

“The Colorado uranium mining industry is wrong to keep fighting water-quality protections and better public involvement,” said Jeff Parsons, senior attorney with the Western Mining Action Project, who represented local communities that intervened against the Powertech lawsuit. “The people of Colorado have a right to be heard and will not accept mining projects that cannot protect the water.”

He also praised the Mined Land Reclamation Board and state Department of Natural Resources for vigorously defending the case.

Powertech suspended operations and the federal and state permitting process on the Centennial Project in October 2011 but has yet to formally withdraw the proposal. In July of last year, the company allowed purchase options with two local landowners to expire, reducing the expected yield from the operation by more than 1 million pounds of uranium ore.

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