The Watch Report
10:46 am
Fri November 2, 2012

The Watch Report: 11/2/12

In this week's Watch report: Anticipation builds for Pinon Ridge Uranium mill hearing, Survey of Montrose School District finds drop in achievement, Ridgway seeks community input on streetscape plan.

KVNF has teamed up with the Watch newspapers to bring you stories from Montrose, Ouray and San Miguel Counties. Managing editor Gus Jarvis has with this week’s report.

Anticipation is building for a potentially heated public hearing process in Nucla next week, which will help determine the fate of the proposed Piñon Ridge Uranium Mill.

Richard Dana will preside over the multi-day affair. He’s a retired federal judge and co-founder of the Judicial Arbiter Group. Dana is currently accepting written public comments and will continue to accept them until Monday, November 12th, at 5 p.m.

Dana will also hear oral comments from the public, starting at 4 PM each day next Wednesday through Friday. All of Monday, November 12th, has also been set aside as a public comment period, starting at 8:30 a.m. Although it’s possible that the oral comment period will last all day long, Dana doubts that will actually happen.

Apart from the public comment segments, the rest of the hearing will consist of formal evidentiary process, as lawyers for both sides examine and cross-examine a list of 25 witnesses. Proceedings will likely finish on Tuesday, November 13th.

The hearing will be held at the Moose Lodge in Nucla. The best way to submit written comments is via email, to rdana@jaginc.com. Dana intends to publish the comments online.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment is holding the hearing to help decide whether to re-grant Energy Fuels a Radioactive Materials License for the Piñon Ridge facility. A previous permit was invalidated earlier this year.

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In related news, several Telluride residents are upset with the town council for entering into a settlement agreement with Energy Fuels over the proposed Piñon Ridge mill.

Skip Edwards of the Advocacy Coalition of Telluride led the charge at Tuesday night’s meeting. He voiced concern that the town would now be financially responsible for environmental baseline monitoring programs, and that having a uranium mill in the neighborhood would mar Telluride’s reputation for pristine natural beauty.

Dana Ivers of the Advocacy Coalition sharply criticized the council for making the decision without public input. And Michael Saftler criticized the council for green lighting what he called “the most polluting industry.”

Town attorney Kevin Geiger said that the town had met its legal requirement by posting the revised agenda referencing the settlement agreement 24 hours in advance of meeting. He dismissed the notion that the settlement agreement was meaningless and didn’t afford Telluride any protections, pointing out four substantive areas where the agreement has legal parameters. He said the town is in a stronger position because of the settlement agreement, particularly on the issue of water quality.

Several council members expressed that their role on council is separate from their personal opinions, and noted that not all of them agreed with the settlement. The vote approving the decision was unanimous. At the previous meeting, all discussion took place in executive session.

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A volunteer group of concerned citizens has finished its detailed survey of the Montrose School District, and says student achievement has fallen due to the combination of factors.

The Montrose Community School Improvement Team presented their findings to the school board last week. The group’s report cites drops in tax revenue, millions of dollars in budget cuts, and dozens of layoffs over the past few years, along with increased costs, as leading to decreased student achievement.

Board President Kjersten Davis hailed the report as a “road map” for a progressively better school system in a time of falling achievement and funds. Davis said the goal of the report is to identify every need, identify where needs are falling short, and then specifically target those concerns.

The report identifies a lack of sufficient materials, from office supplies to textbooks, and says, in certain cases, teachers are forced to make purchases with their own money. The report also details class size, school morale, and teacher retention.

Melanie Hall of the volunteer group said the report is only the beginning of a new process to create a better district-wide system. The group will to deliver specific school findings to district principals in a couple weeks.

The CSIT has made recommendations to the district regarding a possible sales tax increase or mill levy increase in 2013 to increase revenues.

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Ridgway’s Streetscape Committee wants community input on how to get the local economy moving. The town adopted a Historic Business District Streetscape Plan, in 2006 but hasn’t done much with it since.

To change that, the committee, with Ridgway Town Council approval, has prepared a press release, a map and a community survey. They’ve delivered postcards to every business and property owner in Ridgway with the request that respondents take the eight-question, on-line survey at the town’s webpage.

Once the survey responses are in, the committee will review them along with other outreach results and present them to town council. If those findings are positive, the town could move forward with a ballot measure in April to fund the downtown improvements.

That’s the catch. To revitalize the historic business core, as sketched out in the Streetscape Plan, will take about $3.5 million, money the town doesn’t have right now. The proposed infrastructure improvements include paving a few central blocks of major streets, tree planting, new lights and signs, and wide curbs and sidewalks with benches and bike racks. The idea is to encourage a pedestrian, bicycle-friendly downtown to draw motorists off the main drag.

The committee wants your input. For more information, visit the website or pick up maps and a survey at Town Hall.

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