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Consultant: Test wells not returned to baseline uranium levels

By JJ VELASQUEZ
May 4, 2010 at 12:04 a.m.


WHAT'S NEXT?

Scheduled for testimony this week are two expert witnesses on groundwater quality.

Next week, the hearing will move to Goliad.

After the hearing, the judge will write a recommendation to deny or grant the permit, which may take months.

The Texas Commission on Environmental may choose to follow or ignore his recommendation.

The company would then have to obtain an aquifer exemption from the Environmental Protection Agency.

Next Hearing

The hearing will resume at 9 a.m. Wednesday in the William P. Clements building, 300 W. 15th St., in Austin.

AUSTIN - Consultant Craig Holmes acknowledged a mining company did not return test mining sites to baseline uranium levels after testing, which is a common practice.

Holmes, who is an independent consultant hired to make sure Uranium Energy Corp. follows procedures, spent eight hours on the witness stand on Tuesday during the second day of testimony in the state contested case hearing over uranium mining in Goliad.

Holmes was questioned on three main points: uranium level baseline, bore holes not being plugged within the 48 hours required after drilling, and his credibility.

Holmes said the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality was notified of the violations involving the bore holes.

Holmes said in his more than 30-year career, none of the operations he was involved with ever returned wells back to baseline uranium levels for groundwater. He also said he has been involved in 80 percent of uranium mining permitting applications in Texas over his career.

Bob Underdown, vice president of production for the energy company, testified Monday that he has never reached baseline levels in any of the mining projects he has worked on.

When companies fail to restore the baseline, they may ask the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality for an amendment to exceed the baseline levels.

Harry Anthony, UEC's chief operating officer, who was absent from the hearing, said Tuesday this is a common industry practice.

"These are just targets that the TCEQ sets for us," he said of baseline levels. "They've known for a long time that you can't return it back ion for ion."

Anthony said the water in the mining wells is designated for industrial use and cannot be made available for human or agricultural consumption.

He responded to questions about his credibility.

Attorney Jim Blackburn, who represents Goliad County, questioned whether Holmes owning stock in UEC would lessen his credibility.

Holmes said he divested himself of the stock options Friday when he learned during pre-trial proceedings that the stock options could hurt his reputation, he said.

"My credibility has been, I'm proud to say, intact and very good," Holmes said.

Goliad County Commissioner Jim Kreneck, who is attending the hearing, said he feared if mining operations began in Goliad, other uranium companies would move in.

"When this shoe drops, there are going to be other companies," he said.

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