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Publish Date: 7/8/2009

Panel denies uranium amendment
6-1 vote kills proposal to ban exploration, mining near homes

Four more hours of testimony and wrangling over proposed amendments to the county’s Master Plan ended Tuesday night with the Fremont County Planning Commission denying the measure on a 6-1 vote.

The public hearing opened last month with more than three hours of testimony and was continued to the marathon session Tuesday. Proposed by Tallahassee Area Community Inc., the amendments would have banned uranium exploration and uranium mining in certain instances.

The changes also called for a two-mile buffer zone between uranium activity and residential areas in the county’s Mountain Districts. Lee Alter, chair of the TAC government affairs committee that authored the amendments, said the changes would enhance life for all county residents.

But others disagreed and said the amendments would create a slippery slope that would threaten all mining in Fremont County. By a 2-to-1 margin against the proposal, 54 people pleaded their cases before the seven-member panel during the hearing.

An entire contingent from Holcim (US) Inc., lead by plant manager Jason Morin, asked the planners to deny the amendments.

“Our interest has nothing to do with uranium, but everything to do with property rights, jobs and economic development,” said Morin, who argued the proposal was a back-door mining ban. “This amendment could force us to move out of the county,” taking jobs, taxes and other benefits with it.

Morin said the proposal sought to amend the property rights of a few while taking away the property rights of many. He argued it also would damage the economic stability and development of the county.

“We are the single largest taxpayer in Fremont County,” Morin said.

Trayce Farrell, Holcim HR manager, said the plant employs about 170 people with average annual incomes of $60,000.

Many spoke of family legacies and local mining history.

“Mining has always been here,” said Lee McCreight, who said the mining industry had allowed his family to remain in the county while participating in the Florence Volunteer Fire Department, Little League baseball, Parent-Teacher Organizations and more. “Make the people who mine do it right. Make them follow the rules.”

Jim Javernick, whose family has a long history in mining and agriculture, said he would like to see new job opportunities for the younger generation.

“If you mine it or grow it, it’s new wealth,” Javernick said. “This amendment is a job killer. I don’t see where this domino stops falling.”

However, Vincent Capozzella said he was a New Yorker by birth and understood about “the good old days” but said things change.

“I’ve heard people say outsiders should not change our ways,” Capozzella said. “Why not?”

Proponents of the amendments argued it had nothing to do with stopping all mining in the county but instead regulating uranium mining and milling. They questioned water supply and quality, health and safety, road hazards, viewshed and more.

Lezley Suleiman, interim president of TAC, said the two-mile buffer zone was the best way to protect Tallahassee residents.

“A hazardous project of this size cannot be allowed to just happen,” she said. She told the planners they were creating history.

“Be very sure of your vision,” Suleiman said. “Be very sure of the legacy you are leaving.”

Several South T-Bar Ranch residents spoke against the proposal. They own part of the mineral rights at Tallahassee and argued they have the right to use them or sell them as they see fit. Susan Revack said the group voted in favor of encouraging the ecologically responsible mining of uranium.

“This is an unrealistic one-size-fits-all plan,” Revack said of the proposal.

Terry Hartman moved into the Tallahassee area in 2000.

“We were advised the uranium was there, and we still bought,” Hartman said. “The mineral rights are for sale. If you want to buy them and leave them in the ground, that’s up to you,” he told TAC members.

Diane Taylor’s family owns and lives on the Taylor Ranch, which sits over a huge uranium deposit. She said the residential subdivisions grew in Tallahassee because the ranchers there were “starving” and trying to make a living by selling their land piece by piece.

“They want to change the Master Plan to suit their own agenda and use the Planning Commission to do that,” Taylor said of TAC.

Following all public testimony, Commission Chairman Tom Piltingsrud said according to the Master Plan rules, the panel had to either continue the public hearing until next month or vote on it Tuesday. Members discussed the issues and agreed more study is needed before taking action to change the Master Plan.

“I agree with many points on both sides,” Commissioner Dean Sandoval said. “The Master Plan needs to be revised and revised.”

Commissioner Mike Schnobrich, the lone nay vote, said the issue was one of the most complex the panel has dealt with in his 10 years on board.

“We get only one chance to really do this right,” Schnobrich said.

Piltingsrud said the commission will continue working on the Master Plan. The entire panel agreed in principle with TAC, in that uranium mining should be separated from other types of commercial mining in the planning document.

“Every month we continue this public hearing is another month we don’t get back to the revision of the Master Plan. Our meetings are always open,” Piltingsrud said. “We encourage public input.”

The commission meets at 7 p.m. the first Tuesday of each month at 615

Macon Ave.

 
 
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