@EcoFlight1 gives students an aerial view of the connectedness of the environment

Mount Sopris and Hay Park via the @EcoFlight1 Wildlands set.
Mount Sopris and Hay Park via the @EcoFlight1 Wildlands set.

From The Aspen Daily News (Jordan Curet):

In honor of this year’s National Parks Service centennial anniversary, EcoFlight took to the air for four days in late October for combined flights connecting Aspen to Arches and Canyonlands, to the Grand Canyon and finally to Mesa Verde National Park, not to mention the thousands of miles of landscape in between.

EcoFlight, a nonprofit based out of Aspen, takes annual trips with eight college students in six-seat planes to get an aerial perspective on wildland environmental issues. The organization’s president, Bruce Gordon, took similar flights with John Denver, and they had an idea for a trip starting in Alaska, picking up celebrity-pilots along the way and arriving in Washington, D.C. for Earth Day in 2000.

After Denver passed away, Gordon wanted to pursue their shared dream and founded EcoFlight in 2002. Gordon recognized the need to share the first-hand perspective on threats to the environment with the next generation, and began the annual Flight Across America (FLAA) program. This year, eight college students crammed into small planes for a four-day whirlwind tour touching several of the national parks in the west.

“These students have a voice,” Gordon says, sitting with the students in John Denver Sanctuary in Aspen before takeoff. “I want them to see for themselves, and then tell others.”

The participants arrive from near and far, with backgrounds as different as their colleges. Included in the group is an anthropology major from Texas, a Colorado State University freshman in wildlife and conservation biology and a sustainability studies student at Colorado Mountain College in the Roaring Fork Valley. Each student brings their experiences and knowledge from a variety of study areas.

Many Indian reservations are located in or near contentious river basins where demand for water outstrips supply. Map courtesy of the Bureau of Reclamation.
Many Indian reservations are located in or near contentious river basins where demand for water outstrips supply. Map courtesy of the Bureau of Reclamation.

Emilie Frojen, a senior at Colorado College, is writing her thesis about tribal water rights.

“I know a lot about water rights but I want to extend my knowledge into that of public lands and the intersection,” she said, explaining why she wanted to join the FLAA program, adding that she is interested in the social construction of wilderness.

Seeing the connection

Just after departing from Aspen, the students’ headsets crackle to life as Gordon speaks to the three single-engine Cessna 210 Centurion planes flying in formation. Gordon points out geological features and human impacts to the region. Heading toward Moab, Utah, the flight path takes students over mines and natural gas platforms, as well as the mostly roadless Thompson Divide area, the Colorado National Monument and sprawling rock formations in the wilderness.

“We were flying at about 7,000 feet and you can see how it is all connected from the air,” says Caleb Henderson, from University of Texas.

“You can see an obvious line across the land,” adds Cole Rosenbaum, a master’s student studying geological engineering at the Colorado School of Mines, speaking of the infrastructure that connects well pads to roads and pipelines.

The aerial perspective isn’t everything though, and the program includes ample time spent on the ground in key places discussing the issues with experts representing various perspectives.

“It’s important for the students to experience the parks as well,” according to Jane Parigter, EcoFlight’s vice president. Once on the ground in Moab, the students head to Arches National Park. Sitting beneath the iconic Double Arch they listen to Matt Gross, with Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, and discuss the proposal for the Bears Ears National Monument, which if designated would protect 1.9 million acres in southeastern Utah that include ancient cave dwellings and sites sacred to Native Americans

The conversation about policy and land management is followed by a more personal connection to the issues the next morning as the planes touch down in Monument Valley on the Utah-Arizona border. The students sit down with members of the Navajo Nation and Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition, discussing what the land means as more than just wilderness.

“We are trying to preserve the land, but also the songs and the stories,” says Jonah Yellowman, a spiritual adviser from the Many Arrows Bitterwater Clan, as he addresses the students telling tribal creation stories and how the land is connected to him. There have been desecrations of sacred cultural places, he added, and the monument designation would help protect them.

“Is it challenging to communicate with people not from this heritage, working with policy makers while you write the proposal?” asks Frojen, the Colorado College senior studying tribal water rights.

“It is hard to translate why this is sacred,” he admits.

This is a theme that is reiterated again that afternoon at Grand Canyon National Park, as locals depict the proposed Escalade development and how it affects their physical and spiritual world. The project would include hotels above the canyon rim and a tram to the Little Colorado River just upstream from its 
confluence with the Colorado, the place where, according to Navajo tradition, the tribe emerged into the world.

“In Navajo people don’t need to know why something is sacred, it just is. So I am a translator,” says Jason Nex, with Save the Confluence. “I translate from Navajo to English, from science to Navajo.”

Sitting on the edge of the South Rim, one speaker after another presents a variety of stories about the Grand Canyon, from overcrowding and underfunding to diversity and its inclusion in the national parks system.

“EcoFlight takes a very objective approach, presenting us with different information,” says Rosenbaum, from Mines. “At school we are well trained in the technology and the math, but there has been a push to take a more humanitarian approach.”

Mining for impact

“I am here to get you inspired to save the Grand Canyon, and to not want to drink Uranium water,” says Sarah Ponticello, from the Sierra Club. “Sign the petition to really show your support to get this permanently protected.”

Julianne Nikirk, a student at Colorado State University, was surprised to learn that uranium mining is set to commence on the canyon’s doorstep.

“You just kind of assume it is protected,” she says of the Grand Canyon, as they arrive at Canyon Mine, located near the Grand Canyon’s South Rim. The Canyon Mine is not yet operational, but workers have drilled a shaft over 1,400 feet deep and mining could begin for high-grade uranium in six to eight months.

Donn Pillmore, director of operations for Energy Fuels, which operates the mine, offers a counter point, reminding the students that the U.S. is the world’s largest consumer of uranium.

“And we import 96 percent, from places that are not operating under the same environmental regulations as we are. Not even close,” he says.

Pointing out that 20 percent of all U.S. power comes from nuclear plants, Pillmore adds that when uranium comes out of the ground it is not considered a hazardous material by the Department of Transportation. Mitigation systems and measures to prevent contamination from reaching water, as well as reclamation efforts after mining finishes in as little as five years, will return the site to how it was before mining began, he says.

From the outside of the fence where Pillmore speaks to the students the site seems meager, but as the planes wing over it on their departure from the Grand Canyon they see the large swath of land it includes. As the planes cross over the Four Corners area and into Colorado the ground below becomes a maze-like network of oil and gas operations, just a few miles from Mesa Verde National Park.

Back on land in Durango, another series of experts discuss threats to the national parks, how different land management strategies affect wilderness and how to diversify park users and activists. One speaker reminds them on their next flight to think about how the landscape looks now, but also how current policy on wilderness areas will shape it in the future.

As the whirlwind tour comes to an end the students talk about how the different stops affected both them personally and the world around them. Each participant will head home with a bevy of information to digest and a plan to share their stories with their peers and others.

The participants’ first opportunity comes on the last day of the trip at Durango High School, where they coalesce three days of discussions, debates, viewpoints and seminars into a slideshow. They implore the high schoolers to care, get involved and vote, once they can.

“We take local people up to look at their local communities, with the idea being to educate and advocate,” Gordon explains to the high schoolers. “We want to inspire people to speak out.”

Lauren Fry, from Colorado State University, is committed to spread the word when she returns to Fort Collins.

“I want to really focus on outreach on campus, and not many know about Bears Ears,” she said. “Through campus radio, the local TV station and our student newspaper, I want to call attention to the issue and guide people to the petition to protect Bears Ears.”

That sentiment sounds good to Pargiter, EcoFlight’s vice president.

“We want to empower them to have a voice and get them to reach out to their peers,” she said. “This is their generation that is going to be doing a lot of the work.”

The road to Bears Ears via the Salt Lake Tribune.
The road to Bears Ears via the Salt Lake Tribune.

Cañon City: NRC staff rejects Black Range Minerals’ contention about ablation

Uranium sample
Uranium sample

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Tracy Harmon):

Uranium mining opponents got some good news when Nuclear Regulatory Commission staff indicated last week that a proposed new uranium extraction technology may be less safe than proponents indicate.

Black Range Minerals, now owned by Western Uranium of Canada, initially started exploring for uranium in the Taylor Ranch area northwest of Canon City in 2008 and got approval from the Fremont County Commission in 2010 to expand exploration on an additional 2,220-acre site. Residents concerned about the potential impact of renewed uranium mining formed the opposition group Tallahassee Area Committee.

The opponents weighed in during a public comment period hosted by state health department officials last summer as they considers what regulatory requirements should be put in place for a new proposed practice called “ablation technology.” Ablation uses finely crush particles of uranium ore and water in a pressurized manner to extract the uranium.

State health department officials also asked for input from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

“The NRC staff responded with a bombshell completely rejecting the Black Range Minerals/Western Uranium position that ablation is merely a continuation of mining,” said Lee Alter, who monitors government for the Tallahassee Area Committee. “They concluded that ablation technology is a uranium milling activity and should be licensed as such.”

In responding to the state’s request for information, Paul Michalak, from the office of nuclear material safety, said, “It is our understanding that no current NRC regulation explicitly addresses uranium ablation. To the best of our understanding, commercial-scale uranium ablation activities are being proposed solely in Colorado at this time.

“Given this, we believe Colorado would have the flexibility to adopt and implement program elements within the state’s jurisdiction that are not addressed by NRC,” Michalak said.

In addition, Michalak indicated that, “Since uranium ablation technology involves the extraction or concentration of uranium or thorium from any ore processed, then any wastes produced by the process would be byproduct material as defined in the Atomic Energy Act.”

Michalak offered his help to state health officials as they go forward in trying to decide how to deal with the new technology.

NREL’s new chief talks about the path to a carbon-neutral future — Denver Business Journal

Click here to read the whole interview. Here’s an excerpt:

“We need to innovate and do research on all different forms of energy,” [Martin Keller] said. “It would be a mistake to write off any — as long as the energy is carbon neutral. That’s the biggest thing, [because] burning fossil fuels is changing the environment.”

Keller took the reins at NREL, part of the network of laboratories run by the U.S. Department of Energy, at the end of November 2015. He hails from a sister DOE facility in Tennessee, the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, where he served as the associate laboratory director for energy and environmental sciences.

He succeeds Dan Arvizu, who announced plans in March 2015 to retire from the lab after more than 10 years as its director.

Rock cracked Cotter pipeline; contaminants contained at mill site — The Pueblo Chieftain

Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill superfund site via the Environmental Protection Agency
Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill superfund site via the Environmental Protection Agency

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Tracy Harmon):

Cotter Corp. Uranium mill officials say a leak that dumped about 7,200 gallons of contaminated water on the mill property was caused by a rock that punctured a hole in a feeder line.

The feeder line connects to the main pumpback pipeline above a Soil Conservation Service dam that helps prevent rainwater runoff from leaving the mill site. The pipeline carries contaminated water that seeps past the earthen dam and returns it to an impoundment.

“When Cotter personnel excavated the area of the leak, a large rock was discovered above the feeder line. The rock had punctured the pipe, causing the leak,” said Stephen Cohen, Cotter Mill manager.

“Because the puncture and associated crack were small, only a relatively minor percentage of the total actually leaked. Most of the flow continued into the pumpback pipeline,” he explained.

Cotter maintains a pressure monitoring system on the pumpback pipeline that deactivates pumps in the event of a sudden, large pressure drop. However, the feeder is isolated from the main pressure monitoring system, Cohen said. The leak could have occurred on Saturday and continued for 48 hours until workers discovered it on Monday.

It is believed that none of the contaminated water seeped off the mill site, according to Warren Smith, a state health department spokesman.

Cotter officials are replacing the broken section of pipe and the feeder line should be reactivated today, Cohen said. The main pumpback system continues to operate, Smith said.

Because leaks formed in the main pipeline on two separate occasions late last year, Cotter and state health officials are working to finalize a proposal to build a new pipeline.

“Cotter’s original plan does not include replacing any feeder lines. Because this line has broken, however, company (officials) plan to replace this entire section of feeder line when they replace the main pipeline,” Smith said.

Federal and state health officials also are working with Cotter representatives to come up with a plan to clean up and decommission the now-defunct uranium mill site.

#ColoradoRiver: Appeals court backs nuke plant water supply from Green River — The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel #COriver

Green River Basin
Green River Basin

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

Opponents of a proposed nuclear power plant near Green River, Utah, are considering whether to appeal to the state’s high court after the state Court of Appeals upheld a district judge’s ruling approving the plant’s water supply.

A three-judge panel ruled last week in favor of Blue Castle Holdings, the project developer, and two water districts that are seeking changes to existing water rights so Blue Castle can withdraw 53,600 acre-feet a year from the Green River for cooling and steam production at the proposed plant.

The conservation group HEAL Utah challenged the state water engineer’s approval of the proposal, but that approval has now been upheld twice in court.

“In sum, HEAL Utah has not shown that the district court erred in concluding the change applications were filed in good faith and are not speculative or for monopoly of the water,” the appeals court ruled.

HEAL Utah’s challenge had been based partly on concerns about environmental impacts to the watershed, including to endangered fish.

Blue Castle CEO Aaron Tilton said in a news release, “We recognize our responsibility for strong environmental stewardship throughout the lifetime of the project, which includes working diligently to assure protection of the Green River environment and endangered species. Our project has been scrutinized at many levels, including the state engineer, the district court and now the appeals court. We have fully complied and satisfied all the requirements of the law. We can assure the public the high level of scrutiny that has been applied to the process is welcomed.”

Matt Pacenza, HEAL Utah’s executive director, said Monday that despite the setback, “we don’t think the project is moving forward in any legitimately or significant way.”

He said Blue Castle hasn’t attracted interest from utilities for the power it would supply, nor, as far as HEAL Utah can tell, from investors. He said the company hadn’t met with the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission since 2011…

The appeals court said in its written ruling, “Despite the relatively early stage of the Project, the Applicants offered considerable evidence that the Project is feasible, including a detailed business plan, purchase contracts for land, lease agreements for the Districts’ water rights, and evidence that shows it has had discussions with eighteen utilities expressing an interest in the plant’s power.”

It added that while the project “is a risky venture” and hasn’t yet been licensed through the NRC, “the Applicants presented evidence that the Project is both physically and economically feasible.”

Blue Castle says it has begun the contractor selection process for some $8 billion worth of construction work with an expected start date of 2020.

It projects that construction would require some 2,500 workers over some six or seven years, and the plant would employ about 1,000 people permanently. The 2,200-megawatt plant would increase Utah electricity generation by about 30 percent, the company says.

Has the Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill groundwater reached Pueblo Reservoir?

Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill superfund site via the Environmental Protection Agency
Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill superfund site via the Environmental Protection Agency

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Anthony A. Mestas and Tracy Harmon):

Pueblo County Commissioner Liane “Buffie” McFadyen is calling for sediment testing along the Arkansas River and at the bottom of Lake Pueblo to see if there is possible contamination from the now-closed Cotter Corp. Uranium Mill in Fremont County.

McFadyen said Tuesday during a press conference that she is concerned about the impact the possible “growing uranium and molybdenum plumes could have on Pueblo County.”

However, state health officials say the concerns are unfounded. But McFadyen remains concerned.

“This has been going on for 40 years and we can see that the situation is not getting any better and it’s time for us downstream from Canon City to take a stand,” McFadyen said, referring to the ongoing battle over the Cotter Mill cleanup.

Jeri Fry, director of the Colorado Citizens Against Toxic Waste Inc., shared the history of the Cotter controversy and presented maps from a 1987-89 study sowing ground uranium and molybdenum plumes that stretch from the Cotter Superfund site toward the Arkansas River.

“It’s likely that the molybdenum and the uranium plumes have grown since then. We just want answers,” McFadyen said. “And if the Arkansas isn’t contaminated, then that’s a very positive finding . . . We don’t find what we don’t look for.”

However, the concerns are unfounded, according to Colorado Department of Public Health Public Information Officer Warren Smith and Cotter Corp. Mill Manager Steve Cohen. They agree that Arkansas River water is not impacted by contamination from the Cotter mill.

“The Arkansas River is sampled routinely and the results have been showing that the river water quality has not been impacted,” Smith said.

“We constantly collect samples and data every quarter and there is no evidence that Cotter has impacted the Arkansas River.”

Both state and federal health officials study the data and “nobody has ever found anything to suggest that,” said Cohen.

“I am personally disgusted that the Pueblo County commissioners would have a meeting about this and not invite us to speak on the topic,” Cohen said.

And Jennifer Opila, Colorado Department of Public Health site director, said:

“I understand that the sediment has not been sampled (since 2004), but without impact on the water quality, there is no information that would lead us to believe the sediment would be contaminated. There is no contamination of the Arkansas River near the Cotter site, so Pueblo Reservoir would not be impacted.”

“This issue and all other potential issues will be looked at as part of the remedial investigation as we work toward final cleanup,” she said.

McFadyen said she is aware of water testing, but is calling for sediment testing and if it is positive, “Cotter should pay to treat it.”

McFadyen said in 1986, the USGS suggested on behalf of the federal government that sediment and not only the water be tested in the Pueblo reservoir.

“With the plume growing toward the Arkansas River, it’s time. It’s time to take action,” McFadyen said.

She said the possible contamination also could affect Colorado Springs because of the Southern Delivery System, which pipes water from Lake Pueblo up to that community.

State health officials overseeing the Cotter Corp. mill have not felt the study of Minnequa and Pueblo reservoir water quality pertinent since 2004.

“A 2004 review of water quality of the (Minnequa and Pueblo) reservoirs as well as the Arkansas River and associated drainages concluded that they are not impacted by the mill contaminants,” Smith said.

Part of the reason that the downstream reservoirs have not been tested since 2004 is due to the absence of high levels of radium-226, thoium-230, molybdenum and nickel in bodies of water much closer to the mill.

“Sediment sampling in Sand Creek (just north of the mill site), the Arkansas River and the Fremont Ditch indicate that constituents of concern are similar to (natural) background data. These locations are closer to the mill than the Pueblo reservoir and the Minnequa Reservoir,” the state health review concluded.

While the legacy contamination is still present in Lincoln Park groundwater plume (though declining), remedial measures have been effective in preventing public exposure to the Lincoln Park plume. A 2008 water use survey concluded that only one Lincoln Park water well exceeded a drinking water standard for contamination.

The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry draft public health assessment in 2010, conducted at the request of Colorado Citizen’s Against Toxic Waste, found that Cotter contamination did not present a current threat to human health or the environment, according to state health documentation.

“We need to understand all of the materials and how they are moving through the groundwater and how after these 30-40 years they have reached the river and if they are moving on downstream,” Fry said.

“That is a terrible trick to play on our neighbors. When you see a barn burning, do you go tell the authorities or do you just turn your head? And I am telling the authorities. Let’s all band together and get this tested.”

More From KOAA.com (Lena Howland):

“This site is leaking into the neighboring community and it has contaminated the wells and it is a slow moving problem and because of that, people aren’t aware of it,” Fry said.

Fry is calling for more testing of water near the site and they’re looking for help from the community.

“Until we know where it is, we can’t realistically, effectively clean it up,” she said.

She fears the waste may have spread downstream through the Arkansas River and to the Pueblo Reservoir, which has caught the attention of Pueblo County Commissioner Buffie McFadyen.

“I do believe it’s time for Pueblo to get involved and work with the citizens of Fremont County to not only demand a remediation plan that’s realistic to cleanup the site, but also to demand testing along the Arkansas in the sediment and in Pueblo Reservoir,” she said.

McFadyen, now also demanding more testing of the sediment specifically.

And the possibility of tainted water is unsettling to some locals in Pueblo.

“This water comes from the same area, I imagine it passes through, so it’s picking up stuff definitely,” Patricia Hitchcock, a Pueblo resident said.

While others say, this isn’t anything to worry about just yet.

“I think there’s always a little bit of concern about stuff in the water, it wouldn’t keep me out unless it was really serious, but a little bit of concern. In 10 years, I haven’t gotten sick once from the water,” Daniel Rottinghaus, a Pueblo kayaker said.

Cotter officials tell News5 these claims of contamination in the Arkansas River are simply not true and that they routinely test the water and sediment.

From the Colorado Springs Independent (Pam Zubeck):

Tuesday morning, Colorado Citizens Against Toxic Waste gave a presentation to commissioners about their suspicions that the toxic substances have leaked into Pueblo Reservoir.

Why should we in Colorado Springs care? Because one source of water for Colorado Springs and Fountain is the Pueblo Reservoir, via the Fountain Valley Authority line and the Southern Delivery System pipeline.

Commissioner Liane “Buffie” McFadyen is, Pueblo County Commissioner is overseeing efforts to learn more about the situation.

Here’s a community newsletter about the issue.

And here’s a presentation made today by the citizen group.

Public meeting scheduled for citizen input on uranium extraction technology in Tallahassee area W. of Cañon City


From The Pueblo Chieftain (Tracy Harmon):

State health officials will host a public meeting for input on ablation technology that Black Range Minerals proposes to use to extract uranium in the Tallahassee area west of Canon City.

The meeting is scheduled from 6 to 8 p.m. May 31 at Quality Inns and Suites, 3075 E. U.S. 50. The Colorado Department of Public Health is working to make a determination on how to regulate use of the new technology to manage risks to the public and the environment.

Australia-based Black Range Minerals initially started exploring for uranium in the Taylor Ranch area west of Canon City in 2008 and got approval from the Fremont County commission in 2010 to expand exploration on an additional 2,220 acre site.

Black Range proposes to use ablation — dubbed “uranium fracking” — which involves drilling a hole up to 24 inches in diameter into a uranium deposit, lowering a rotating nozzle into the ground, blasting a high-pressure water jet stream into the rock in order to fracture it and develop an underground cavern before pumping a uranium-bearing slurry back to the surface for processing.

Health officials also will take public comment through July 8 via email to Jennifer.opila@state.co.us.