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Colorado environmental groups celebrate decision allowing Cotter Mill uranium lawsuit

Environmental groups battling to get the Cotter Mill uranium processing facility near Cañon City properly cleaned up applauded a decision late last week by a district court judge in Denver that allows their lawsuit to go forward.

Colorado Citizens Against ToxicWaste (CCAT) filed a lawsuit last year trying to get the state to compel Cotter Corp. to establish an aggressive cleanup plan at the EPA Superfund site and provide twice as much in financial assurance to back the project.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) and Cotter both asked the court to dismiss the case, questioning CCAT’s legal standing. On Friday, District Court Judge Robert Hyatt rejected that motion.

“After considering all of Plaintiffs allegations in the complaint to be true this Court finds a sufficient showing that the Plaintiff is entitled to relief and the Motion to Dismiss under Rule 12(b)(5) is DENIED,” District Court Judge Robert Hyatt wrote.

“Instead of telling us that we don’t have an interest in the radioactive contamination of our water and air, the department ought to be working with the public to protect our environment and health. It is regrettable that CDPHE has taken Cotter’s side to keep Colorado citizens out of the decision process,” said Sharyn Cunningham, a CCAT co-chair whose own well water was contaminated by the Cotter Mill.

Cunningham went on to say she’s glad CCAT’s case will finally be heard by a judge. The lawsuit alleges the state first estimated Cotter’s financial assurance to be more than $43 million but later accepted less than half that amount after closed-door meetings. It also claims the state needs to update its decommissioning and reclamation plan since Cotter is shutting down the mill.

Last month, a different district judge made a similar ruling on a legal challenge by the Sheep Mountain Alliance against the proposed Piñon Ridge Mill in the Paradox Valley of western Montrose County. The state and the company proposing the first new uranium mill in the United States in nearly three decades both argued the court lacked standing.

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