December 26, 2008

Company drops South Park uranium mining claims

Lynda James
Correspondent

Jeff Parsons, senior attorney of the Western Mining Action Project, discusses the process of creating regulations to implement House Bill 1161 at the SOSPW08 meeting on Dec. 6. (Photo by Lynda James/The Flume)

Golden-based New Horizon Uranium Corp. has relinquished its staked mining claims northeast of Hartsel, the company's president has confirmed.

Doran Moore, an organizer of Save Our South Park Water 2008, announced New Horizon's move at the Dec. 6 meeting of SOSPW08 at the Hartsel Community Center. The information was published in the company's management discussion and analysis filed with Canadian securities administrators in November.

Bill Wilson, president of New Horizon, told The Flume that the company had re-prioritized its properties after uranium prices fell this summer. He said the company decided not to pay the $125 federal claim fee for each of the approximately 100 claims filed. Because the fees were not paid, the claims have been abandoned.

Wilson said that New Horizon decided to make its Sand Creek property in Conserve County, Wyo., its main priority.

New Horizon, which is traded on the Toronto Stock Exchange under the symbol NHU-V, was spearheading its South Park efforts through its subsidiary, Horizon Nevada Uranium Inc., also based in Golden.

Jeff Parsons, senior attorney for the Western Mining Action Project, told the SOSPW08 meeting attendees that they shouldn't relax. "When uranium prices rise again, others will come because there has been interest in mining in the area," Parsons said.

Uranium prices have fallen from a peak of nearly $140 a pound in July 2007 to a recent price on Nov. 17 of $53 a pound.

House Bill 1161

Parsons also updated the attendees on the rule-making procedures for Colorado House Bill 1161. Parsons was instrumental in drafting the bill that passed the legislature this year.

He said it was a landmark bill that will regulate Colorado in situ uranium mining. The bill requires proof that a company can and will restore groundwater quality to those conditions that were in place before in situ mining occurred. The mining process mobilizes heavy metals in rock formations and releases them into the aquifer. The water is then pumped to the surface and uranium is extracted.

Parsons said the rule-making to implement the bill will begin in January by the Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety.

Once HB 1161 has been reviewed by the Colorado attorney general, stakeholder meetings will be held. Parsons encouraged Park County water entities as well as SOSPW08 to be involved during that first phase of the rule making.

Parsons said once draft regulations have been written, the second phase, or formal process, would begin. Then public meetings would be held before the division adopts final in situ mining regulations.

Parsons said it is important to have scientific experts as well as water entities and other organizations testify at the public hearings to provide input on establishing a base-line methodology for "before and after" water quality.

"Science is on our side," Parsons said. "The key is implementing regulations that will be true to the law (HB 1161)."

Having regulations, however, does not ensure that groundwater will be protected, because accidents can happen, Parsons emphasized.

County LURs

In response to a question from the audience regarding Park County Land Use Regulations prohibiting mining in a residential zone, Parsons stated, "It's not a silver bullet."

Since the mineral rights are owned by the federal government in the area, federal law requires reasonable accommodations to both the surface and mineral owners, he said.

"You can't just tell them no," Parsons added.

He did say that if a surface owner refused to grant a mining company permission to access property, a National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) process would be required.

Parsons also encouraged property owners to stake their own claims on their land to keep mining companies from staking claims.

Wilson told The Flume that the Uranium Committee of the Colorado Mining Association is currently reviewing the bill and taking a look at what it would like to see in the final regulations. He said he wasn't sure how long the regulation adoption process would take, but that the Colorado Mining Association would be at the table from the stakeholder meetings to final adoption.

Wilson agreed that property owners should test their wells for their own personal health.

New Horizon had offered to test wells earlier this year, said Wilson, but "no one took us up on the offer."

Uranium and radon can be filtered from well water. But then the filters must be disposal of as radioactive material.

Possible USGS study

SOSPW08 organizers have been negotiating with the U. S. Geological Survey, Colorado Water Science Center, and hydrologist Cory Stephens on possible groundwater quality studies in the area northeast of Hartsel.

Stephens told meeting attendees that he had reviewed all data available for Park County. That included well water quality studies conducted by the USGS, which were partially paid by Park County from 1998 through 2004 and also in the 1960s and 1970s.

Stephens said that some wells had been tested for uranium and radon in the Park County studies, but data was lacking for the area northeast of Hartsel. Countywide radon was a bigger health concern in water than uranium in the test results of those studies, he said.

Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer, with tobacco being first. Uranium is a cause of kidney toxicity as well as cancer.

Stephens handed out copies of the latest Park County study, "Groundwater Quality and the Possible Effects of Individual Sewage Disposal Systems on Groundwater Quality, 2001 -2004."

High radon levels

In this study, radon in groundwater wells ranged from 40 to 19,200 pico-Curies per liter (pCi/L), a measurement of radioactivity. Ninety-one percent of the wells tested had radon levels greater than the proposed Safe Drinking Water Standard of 300 pCi/L. In other studies, measurements ranged to a high of 27,000 pCi/L.

Uranium levels in wells ranged from less than 1 to 48 micrograms per liter. A microgram equals one part per billion. Safe Drinking Water Standard for uranium is 30 micrograms per liter.

Also in the 1970s, the federal government conducted the National Uranium Resource Evaluation (NURE) to determine areas in the United States that contain mineable uranium reserves that could be used for nuclear fuel. NURE tested groundwater, surface soils, and river and stream sediments.

Stephens said stream sediments were tested to determine where surface water had transported uranium. This could help determine where resources upstream were.

Stephens presented maps of Park County that he had generated from the county data in the NURE. Most levels were below the Safe Drinking Water Standard of 30 micrograms per liter. The highest levels northeast of Hartsel ranged to a high of over 250 micrograms per liter.

Stephens said that more studies were needed to establish a baseline of uranium in groundwater in case of possible in situ mining activities and also to address health hazards in residential water wells.

Moore said that SOSPW08 would continue discussions with the USGS to determine the cost and scope of such studies. He was also interested in a study to determine if the groundwater is connected to stream water that flowed into nearby Spinney Reservoir. It is a source of drinking water for the Front Range.

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