- Associated Press - Friday, March 14, 2014

CANON CITY, Colo. (AP) - Cotter Corp. is negotiating ways to finish cleanup of 15 million tons of radioactive uranium tailings while it copes with two recent contamination spills, leaving residents concerned about the quality of their groundwater.

Final cleanup options being considered by state and federal officials include removal or burial of the waste.

Meanwhile, uranium and molybdenum contamination has spiked at a monitoring well in adjacent Canon City.

A Feb. 20 report by Cotter’s consultant said groundwater uranium levels at a well in the Lincoln Park neighborhood near the mill site were the highest recorded for that location, slightly exceeding health standards.

“This isn’t acceptable,” Fremont County Commissioner Tim Payne said.

Gov. John Hickenlooper intervened last year to hear residents’ concerns and try to speed final cleanup.

Cotter Vice President John Hamrick said the agreement for a more permanent solution will lay out timetables for the company to propose options with cost estimates, The Denver Post reported Friday (http://tinyurl.com/n4h5j9f).

An Environmental Protection Agency spokeswoman said the most recent spike does not appear to be part of a trend, based on monitoring at other wells, but she said the agency takes any elevated uranium levels seriously.

The Cotter mill, now owned by defense contractor General Atomics, opened in 1958, processing uranium for nuclear weapons and fuel.

Cotter stored radioactive material and heavy metals in 11 unlined ponds until 1978. The ponds were replaced in 1982 with two lined waste ponds. Well tests in Canon City found contamination, and in 1984, federal authorities declared a Superfund environmental disaster.

Colorado officials let Cotter keep operating until 2011, and mill workers periodically processed ore until 2006.

A community group, Colorado Citizens Against Toxic Waste, has been pressing for details and expressing concerns about the Cotter site.

Energy Minerals Law Center attorney Travis Stills said information shows the likely expansion of a uranium plume into Canon City toward the Arkansas River.

The residents deserve independent fact-gathering and a proper cleanup, Stills said.

“This community is profoundly committed to reclaiming and protecting its groundwater,” he said.

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Information from: The Denver Post, http://www.denverpost.com

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

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