Decision Time
For the Cotter Corporation, the issue is survival in what is probably the most economically challenging uranium market since the atom was cracked in the 1940s.
Part of a deadly past
CAÑON CITY - When the United States dropped the two atomic bombs on Japan in August 1945, the 20th century's most closely guarded secret was out.
Procedures facing the Cotter Corp.
The Cotter Corporation currently has three approval processes underway with the Colorado Department of Health and Environment.
Superfund sites
It started with outcry about Love Canal, a 15-acre chemical landfill in Niagara Falls, N.Y., that came to public attention in 1978, and the Valley of the Drums in Brooks, Ky., where the Environmental Protection Agency in 1979 began investigating the contamination of 23 acres by the dumping of 1,500 drums of chemical waste that had begun to leak.
Cotter:
Waste
not
CAÑON CITY -- Prior to 2001, the Cotter Corp.'s logo was a golden nucleus surrounded by the circular paths of orbiting electrons, a reflection of the company's long history of milling uranium at a sprawling complex just south of Cañon City.
New revenue opportunities lie in zirconium
CAÑON CITY -- For a $50 million facility tooled almost exclusively to process uranium from natural ore, a market severely limited for nearly two decades has provided meager business opportunities.
Hot items, hard times
CAÑON CITY - Its mill has fallen on hard times and management is forced to lay off most of its workforce. The uranium market is severely depressed and Cotter Corp. is looking for something to keep the facility operating.
Uranium market on downhill
CAÑON CITY -- When the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission licensed the Cotter Corp. mill to begin processing south of Cañon City in 1958, the federal government agreed to pay the company $8 per pound for processed uranium oxide, or yellowcake, the raw material used to make enriched fuel for nuclear weapons and reactors.
"Alternative feed" disposal doesn't seem so difficult
CAÑON CITY -- As the Cotter Corp. awaits a Colorado Department of Health and Environment decision on a 470,000-ton shipment of radioactive New Jersey soil -- and perhaps the company's very future - discussion about "alternate feed material" is sure to be part of the rhetoric.

Lincoln Park Superfund to be tested for plutonium
DENVER - Colorado health officials soon will conduct their first-ever tests for plutonium in the Lincoln Park Superfund area and will test for other contaminants, the agency's director confirmed Wednesday.
Sound solution?
CAÑON CITY - Radioactive, contaminated, Superfund waste.
Such terms, all accurate, describe the 470,000 tons of waste from Maywood, N.J., that Cotter would like to bring to Canon City to use as cover material for waste impoundments at the mill south of town.
EPA questions waste disposal in tailings pond
CAŅON CITY - Although its regulatory oversight of uranium mills is limited, "serious questions" by the Environmental Protection Agency about the Cotter Corp.'s Caņon City operation could doom one of two company proposals to dispose of Superfund waste in its tailings ponds.
Specialist says safety has always been priority at Cotter
CAŅON CITY - After eight years on active duty in the Air Force and another 20 working as a civilian contractor for the military, Kerry Smith is more than familiar with the rigors of regulation and procedure.
Outreach group hopes to educate community
The choice of people to sit on the Fremont County Independent Outreach Committee rests solely with Angela Bellantoni of Environmental Alternatives Inc.
 
A glossary of terms
The nuclear industry uses a language all its own. Some of it will be familiar from high school chemistry classes, but other acronyms and definitions are like a foreign language to people who do not work in the industry. Here are some of the terms and phrases that readers might find in this series of stories.
The Cotter Timeline
What's in there?
Following are toxicological profiles written for substances known to be either at the Cotter Corp. site or at the Maywood Interim Storage Site in New Jersey include:
 

Editor's Note:

If the Cotter Corp. has its way, its property near Cañon City will become home to nearly 10 million pounds of radioactive soil from a New Jersey Superfund site.

It may not get its way. The Legislature, at Gov. Bill Owens’ urging, put the brakes on Cotter ’s plans in April, enacting a law requiring public hearings and detailed environmental and public health reports before the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment will consider allowing up to 470,000 tons of radioactive waste to be stored at the Cotter site.

It’s an issue critical in the short term for Cañon City and the many communities along the busy freeways and highways that waste shipments would travel. And it’s an issue critical in the long term as a measure of the state health department’s ability to protect and ensure the health and welfare of residents in all of Colorado’s communities.

These stories explore the galaxy of issues — scientific, environmental, health, economic and historic — swirling around Cotter ’s plan and assay the gauntlet of regulations that are supposed to protect Coloradans and their communities.

 
Digging Dirt
CAÑON CITY - To a pair of 29-year-old parents with three small children, Cañon City in 1958 seemed like a dream.
The picturesque little city on the banks of the Arkansas River had it all: great weather; great soil for farming, gardening and raising a few animals; a great 4-H program for the kids.
And a great job on the ground floor of a burgeoning industry.
Faces of pain
Though scientists have an idea of what causes certain types of cancer or other health problems, when individuals become ill their doctors cannot always point to what caused that particular event.
Questions & Answers
The words "hazardous waste" can strike fear into those who live or work near it.
It's for good reason. The hundreds of materials classed as hazardous can cause health problems ranging from general aches and pains to fatal cancer cases.
History of violations
CAÑON CITY - Since a criminal investigation into allegedly falsified records was launched in 1979, the Cotter Corporation's regulatory record has been marked by a steady stream of violations that appear to have changed little in 22 years.
 
  Did Colorado share blame?
DENVER - In late 1983, the State of Colorado sued the Cotter Corporation for $50 million, claiming the company's Cañon City uranium mill had polluted the land, air and water surrounding the mill site just south of the city.
 
 

Dodge case details health risks of toxic materials
CAÑON CITY -- While radiation releases have been targeted by many of those who have sued the Cotter Corporation over the years, some of those same people have claimed heavy metals such as molybdenum and lead have also taken their toll.

 
  Lawsuits filed against Cotter
 
Cause & Effect
CAÑON CITY - Leaning back in a chair in his office in a historic building on Cañon City's main thoroughfare, George Turner ponders just why it is so important for a mill that provides only a fraction of the jobs in the local labor force to stay open.
Officials are not blaming tourist slump
on proposal
With controversy surrounding the proposal to bring radioactive soil from New Jersey to be stored south of Cañon City, it might be tempting for managers of Cañon City area tourist attractions to use it as a scapegoat for this summer's visitor slowdown.
A shattered dream
CAŅON CITY - When Mike Stiehl and his wife Penny Steadman bought a house in the rural, apple-tree lined Lincoln Park neighborhood on Caņon City's south side in the July 2001, they thought they had found their own little slice of solitude to settle into.
Agents don't think Cotter has affected real estate sales
CAŅON CITY - Area real estate sales have slowed a bit this year and the time that properties are on the market is getting longer, but area real estate professionals don't believe controversy over the Cotter Corp.'s existing Superfund site cleanup or its plan to bring in contaminated soil from another Superfund site in New Jersey is responsible.
On the hot seat
DENVER - Since it began regulating the state's radioactive materials industry 34 years ago, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment had never suspended the Cotter Corp.'s license to process radioactive materials.
Until now.
Elected officials, candidates disagree about Cotter impact
After 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.
City Council wants to avoid a dump at Cotter
Cañon City Council members range from outright dislike of the Cotter Corp. to viewing it as a troubled industry that was once a prized economic benefit when in started in 1958.
Geology of area contributes to risk
CAÑON CITY -- Speaking before a meeting of the Colorado Mining Association in 1966, Cotter Corporation founder and executive vice president David Marcott tried to address mounting questions about possible pollution from his mill near Cañon City.
  Updates
 

Colorado rejects N.J. waste
DENVER - State health officials announced on Tuesday that they have rejected the Cotter Corporation's plan to bring 470,000 tons of radioactive waste from Maywood, N.J., to its Canon City mill, citing an inadequate environmental assessment.

 
  Letters say school was not tested
DENVER - A recently-discovered series of letters written 10 years ago indicate state health officials failed to conduct soil tests at McKinley Elementary School in Lincoln Park in spite of private 1992 tests indicating the school playground contained unsafe levels of uranium, lead and molybdenum.
 
 

Grand Junction faced cleanup earlier
GRAND JUNCTION -- It took years, cost many millions of dollars, disrupted traffic, tore up basements and patios and required delicate political compromises.

 
   
 
  Cotter Series Web Addresses

The Cañon City Public Library maintains a database of public documents related to the Cotter Corp. and the Lincoln Park Superfund site.
Click here to view a list of items included.


Commentary

Health department has failed
to do its job
No one who has reviewed the regulations or studied the regulatory process would dare suggest that the job of overseeing a uranium mill is easy. But the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, which agreed to take on the task in 1968, has done such a poor job of regulating the Cotter Corporation south of Caņon City that the residents of the area have been left virtually unprotected.
Prevent Cotter from collecting nuclear castoffs
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment should not permit the Cotter Corporation to turn the mill site into a dump for radioactive and contaminated materials found elsewhere in Colorado or the nation.
Cotter's time has come and gone
It's time to consider decommissioning the Cotter mill south of Caņon City and moving all contaminated materials to a location that won't endanger a population center. The state Department of Public Health and Environment should begin the process with consideration of what would be required to refuse its relicensing.
Open death certificates to public inspection
If there's a situation that makes the case for why death certificates should be available to the public, it is the Superfund area that includes Lincoln Park just south of Caņon City. The public is unable to determine for itself what, if anything, has caused the deaths of present and former Lincoln Park residents because in Colorado, death certificates are considered confidential.

Three newspapers contributed to this series

The Cotter at the Crossroads series utilized staffers from three daily newspapers in the Lehman Communications group.
Involved were:

Ed Lehman
Chairman of Lehman Communications and Publisher of the Cañon City Daily Record.

Lauren Lehman
Daily Record Operations Manager and Senior Vice President.

Ken Amundson
Daily Record Assistant to the Publisher and Project Coordinator for the series.

Kim Humphreys
Consulting editor

B.J. Plasket
Denver Bureau Reporter for Lehman Communications Corporation

Eric Frankowski
Assistant City Editor of the Longmont Daily Times-Call

Jeff Haller
Photographer for the Longmont Daily Times-Call

Travis Pryor
Day News Editor for the Longmont Daily Times-Call

Jackie Hutchins
Local News Editor of the Loveland Daily Reporter-Herald

John Lemons
Staff Writer for the Cañon City Daily Record

Grant Murray
News Assistant for the Cañon City Daily Record

Tamara McCumber
Photographer for the Cañon City Daily Record.

Terri Holloway
General Manager of the Cañon City Daily Record

Lee Spaulding
Editor of the Cañon City Daily Record

Patrick Kramer
Chief Photographer for the Longmont Daily Times-Call