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No big objections raised at hearing on new uranium mine
Riverton Wyoming Workforce Center manager Burl Gies, right, and Tom Sunderland of the Lander BLM field office examined a display at Tuesday's uranium mine hearing in Riverton. Photo by Eric Blom

No big objections raised at hearing on new uranium mine

Dec 5, 2012 - By Eric Blom, Staff Writer

Comments generally were supportive at a public meeting discussing Cameco's proposed uranium mine in the Gas Hills east of Riverton.

The Bureau of Land Management held the meeting Dec. 4 at the Riverton branch of the Fremont County Library to seek input on its draft environmental impact statement.

Power Resources Inc., which is doing business as Cameco Resources, wants to build five in-situ recovery mine units on 8,500 acres in the Gas Hills. If approved, the Cameco mine would be the first new uranium mine in Fremont County in decades. The uranium industry once was the county's largest employer.

Public comments on the draft EIS is one of the later stages of the BLM's permitting process for the mine.

The BLM set up several informational posters in the library's Community Room. Over two hours, 10 local residents examined the posters and spoke with four BLM officials, two consultants for the BLM and several of Cameco's staff.

Several attendees had concerns about the mine, but most had an overall positive view of it.

Wyoming Department of Transportation's Riverton maintenance foreman Robin Clapp came to see how the project will impact state roads. He is in charge of maintaining Wyoming Highway 136, and one map on display showed the mine increasing traffic on that road.

Elizabeth Philp's family grazes sheep and cattle on land the mine will impact. She went to the meeting to understand that impact.

After speaking with BLM experts, she said she was not too concerned.

"It won't disturb a whole lot of land," she said. Later she added, "There's 50,000 acres out there."

One impact would be more traffic on the road leading to her family's allotment.

Overall though, she felt positive about the project.

"I think it'll be good if it supplies jobs and energy," she said.

Clapp had questions about that impact to that road.

"How much traffic? How much deterioration? How many trucks? What about weight issues?" he said.

The road currently has a low traffic volume, has a low maintenance priority, and is not in good shape Clapp said.

"It's just not going to take the abuse," he said.

He said WyDOT is considering improving the highway.

Strathmore Minerals also is applying for a uranium mine permit in the Gas Hills. Mark Mayer, a geographic information systems specialist for Strathmore, came to the Cameco meeting to see how the process works.

"It's a good process." he said.

"I'm hoping the whole thing goes well, because I have a lot of people who need jobs," said Wyoming Workforce Center manager Burl Gies of Riverton. "We need something like this to get people to work."

Gies worked in Gas Hills uranium mines from the late 1970s until 1984 and liked the work.

"When I worked there they were great-paying jobs. They treated their help well," he said. "Besides that, it was an interesting job with chemical processes and the geology of it."

Tom Powell, a land manager for Strathmore, also attended. Part of his job is to work with government agencies for his company. He also worked in Gas Hills uranium mines in the past.

"We're at the top of this (permitting) process," Powell said. "Hopefully we get through this in a year or two. I think it's great. Uranium built Riverton."

A geologist for the BLM's Lander Field Office, Tom Sunderland, was not surprised with the reaction.

"The initial scoping report public comments mostly were positive," he said. "I'll be itching to see how these meetings go. Usually Riverton's a pretty good turnout."

He added that the BLM expects many comments from government agencies impacted by the process.

The BLM's district Kristin Yannone, the environmental and planning coordinator at the BLM Lander Field Office, said the BLM extended the public comment period for a month to Jan. 31.

Cameco wanted more time to respond to alternatives the BLM suggested for how the mine could impact the environment less, she said.

Ken Vaughn, Cameco manager of public and government affairs, was excited to see the turnout at the meeting. He said, though, that he expects the majority of the public comments to come in writing rather than from public meetings.

He added that Cameco is grateful for the extension to the public comment period.

"It'll make sure we can understand the alternatives completely and address them," he said.

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