Elected officials, candidates disagree about
The Daily Record News Group
more than 40 years of operation, the activities of the Cotter Corp.
uranium mill just south of Cañon City brings out a wide range
of opinions from state and county officials.
Rall, Fremont County commissioner and candidate for re-election
to a third term, said he isn't in favor of shutting down Cotter
as long as it is operating safely.
is a legal business, he said. "They have permits to perform
processing of uranium and those types of activities, so, I am not
in favor of shutting down a legal business as long as they follow
the regulations set up by the state and federal agencies."
the case of the Maywood, N.J., Superfund materials, if the license
allows them to dispose of the soil, "I don't feel we have the
right to say they can't. Based on the public hearings I attended,
there is enough information there so that the department of health
can make a decision."
he said he doesn't want Cañon City to become known as a nuclear
or toxic waste dump.
Maywood materials are low-level radioactive soils. Cotter wants
to use the Maywood materials to cover mill tailings and say it is
lower in radioactivity than what already exists in the mill's impoundments.
of the out-of-state shipments say the soil may be contaminated with
toxic materials that make it a health hazard to Cotter workers and
Fremont County residents.
commissioners in March asked the governor to delay the shipments
until the state health department could study the materials proposed
for shipment to the mill site. The Legislature also passed an emergency
bill requiring public hearings. After two hearings and a public
comment period, the state health department has yet to decide about
the Maywood soil.
think it was appropriate for us to have a delay on the shipments
until we had a better understanding of the materials they want to
bring in," Rall said. "I think the governor and Legislature
said the county does not have authority to further regulate uranium
mills. He said the board or individual commissioners could comment
to federal and state officials about Cotter's operations, but the
commissioners have been reserved about making public statements,
may be called to make a decision on something that comes before
us," he said. "We need to be impartial until we have all
some of the concern is that Cotter's operation is hazardous to the
community's health and people are dying because of the operation,
the state has the authority to shut down the operation. I don't
know if Cotter has that effect on the community."
a Republican, was elected as the District 2 commissioner in 1995
and re-elected to office in 1998. He is opposed in the general election
by Democrat Phil Palmeri and unaffiliated candidate Larry Lasha.
said he is concerned about the Maywood issue. He said he signed
a petition against it.
it is not good enough for Maywood, I can't see how it is good for
us," he said. "It doesn't make sense to me."
cost of shipping the material anywhere in the country is too much
for taxpayers to pay, Lasha said.
officials should be informed about the Cotter operations and the
shipments of soil to the Cotter mill, he said. Also, the state health
department should be more observant of the situation at the mill,
need to be thorough in their job," Lasha said. "It is
not a minor issue. When you are dealing with public safety, it is
a major issue."
also praised the efforts of Colorado Citizens Against Toxic Waste
for its efforts to bring the issue into the public light. The group
has been unfairly criticized for not being informed, he said.
my opinion, they are doing the research and doing what they should
be doing," Lasha said. "I don't see it as an emotional
Phil Palmeri said he sees both good and bad with the Cotter situation.
is a double-edged sword," he said. "Cotter gives us jobs,
but we don't need the toxic image."
said he wants to see the county keep its jobs and attract more jobs,
but Cotter has to do better. Although he has lived in Fremont County
for three years, Palmeri said he understands that Cotter has a long
history of violations concerning its operations.
the regulators should make Cotter operate safely, the community
doesn't need the reputation of being hard on industry, he said.
The county needs more jobs and revenues and Cotter is owned by a
larger company that could be a benefit to the area, he said.
the company can get the safety issues straightened out, then it
should be allowed to operate, Palmeri said. If not, then Cotter
shouldn't be allowed to operate.
said he gives the members of Colorado Citizens Against Toxic Waste
a lot of credit for doing what they do to bring the Cotter problems
to public attention.
Keith McNew, who is not running for re-election this year, said
the commissioners don't have control over Cotter, but he believes
Cotter can be a good neighbor if the company is monitored.
think it can be properly run with no danger to the community. I
have been neutral on it before," he said. "I have some
strong personal feelings, but there is nothing I can do except get
beat up on it."
Jim Schauer, also not running for re-election this year, said it
is up to the state to monitor Cotter.
would hate to see a 50-year-old company leave town," he said.
"If it is legal and the state gives the OK to it, I don't have
a problem with it."
he said he would like to see the health and safety violations found
by the health department at the Cotter mill corrected.
the race for State Senate District 2, incumbent Ken Kester said
he has tried to respond to concerns about the mill. In the last
session of the Legislature, he co-sponsored House Bill 1408, which
required public hearings and state health department scrutiny of
low-level radioactive materials proposed for shipment to Colorado.
the legislation, there were no limits on shipments of low-level
radioactive materials, he said. Although he received criticism from
CCAT members because the legislation didn't go far enough to control
the shipments, he said he believes the bill was the best that could
be quickly passed through the Legislature.
we didn't have HB 1408, I think we would be in deep trouble,"
bill stopped the shipments, at least temporarily, and public meetings
were held, he said.
August, Kester asked the health department to conduct a public comment
period on the shipments of low-level materials from Superfund sites
in other states and require Cotter to provide a better environmental
assessment of the impact of the Maywood material. He also asked
for a new hearing on the Maywood material.
felt our department of health needs to monitor Cotter more closely,"
Kester said. "I am not trying to cause trouble or put pressure
on anyone, but this is a situation we need to watch closely."
Kester's opponent in the Senate District 2 race, Dan Slater, blames
Kester for the amendments to HB 1408 that make it easier to get
the shipments into Colorado. The same procedure should be followed
as that of high-level radioactive waste, he said.
hearings should be conducted by the Legislature, not Cotter, Slater
said. The governor and the Legislature, not the health department,
should make the final decision, he said.
health department has been historically pro industry," Slater
said he is not against Cotter as long as the company safely processes
uranium ore as it was first intended and licensed to operate. He
said he is against Cotter becoming a repository for or a processor
of materials from other Superfund sites.
is what is called sham processing," Slater said of the processing
of Superfund materials. "I tried to warn the Legislature that
said he would be less opposed to a nuclear waste dump if it was
50 or 60 miles from a community, but Cotter is just a few hundred
yards from several subdivisions.
Tracy, candidate for the State Representative District 60 seat against
incumbent Rep. Lola Spradley, also is concerned about Cotter's attempt
to change its business operations.
think it is unfortunate that the industry, after all these years,
is trying to figure out what it can do when it grows up," she
Cotter from uranium ore processing to waste disposal from other
sites is not what some people think Cotter should be doing, Tracy
said. The problem is that there doesn't seem to be enough information
about the material that has been shipped to the mill.
of that material is high in radiation," she said. "It
is more than uranium ore."
of her concerns is the lack of control by agencies such as the state
health department and the Environmental Protection Agency, she said.
having worked in a state regulatory capacity, I know they are understaffed
and under budgeted for the job they do," said Tracy, who recently
retired from the Colorado Department of Human Services. "I
don't think in general we can rely on government agencies to protect
officials need to look at the state and federal laws that govern
functions of companies such as Cotter, she said. There are a lot
of gaps in the laws, she said.
a Republican, said the Cotter issue has created division and uncertainty
in Cañon City. She said people have told her they are concerned
about jobs and employee and community safety.
health department appears to be doing an adequate job protecting
the community, she said. When she spoke to health department officials,
she said she found the decisions to be based on good rationale and
far as I can tell, they (health department officials) are conscientious
about what they are doing," Spradley said. "I think they
are doing the best job they know how to do."
she co-sponsored HB 1408, she was met with resistance from other
legislators who didn't think the Legislature should be holding hearings
and deciding whether a company such as Cotter should receive low-level
radioactive materials. Because the Legislature only meets four months
out of the year, many elected officials believed it would put an
undue hardship on business owners to require legislative hearings
to approve shipments, she said.
HB 1408 needs to be improved, she can address that in the next session,
for Cotter, the executives need to let the people know more about
what they want to do and how it will impact the community, Spradley
said. The impact on the economy from Cotter needs to be better understood,
think there are people on both sides of the issue in the community,"
she said. "But everyone wants to understand and know they are