Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Clash of rural economies, lifestyles in southwestern Colorado

This story on the front page of yesterday's New York Times caught my eye, not least because over the past few years I've visited several times one of the towns mentioned: Telluride, Colorado, population 2,771 (up from 2,221 in 2000). The headline is, "A Battle Over Uranium Bodes Ill for U.S. Debate," and the other town featured is Naturita, Colorado, population 387 (down from 635 in 2000). Naturita, you see, is sorta' like a working class, punk sibling of posh Telluride. While it's a little sibling size-wise, Naturita's mining history is just as rich as that of Telluride, a silver-mining-town-turned-upscale ski resort that has grown exponentially (well, as quickly as its rich residents would permit) over the years. Now, it seems, residents of Telluride are opposing the proposed revival of uranium mining and its processing in Naturita, an hour's drive away, in neighboring Montrose County. Here's the lede to Kirk Johnson's story:
The future of nuclear power in America is back on the table, with all its vast implications, as global warming revives the search for energy sources that produce less greenhouse gas.

But in this depressed corner of western Colorado — one of the first places in the world that uranium, nuclear energy’s primary fuel, was ever dug from the ground in industrial scale — the debate is both simpler and more complicated. A proposal for a new mill to process uranium ore, which would lead to the opening of long-shuttered mines in Colorado and Utah, has brought global and local concerns into collision — jobs, health, class-consciousness and historical memory among them — in ways that suggest, if the pattern here holds, a bitter national debate to come.
The activism of Telluride residents led one in Naturita to query, "how big is Telluride's back yard?"-- a reference to the NIMBY (Not in My Backyard) phenomenon. The comment of another Naturita resident, a school janitor, implicitly referenced the class division between the two towns:
People from Telluride don’t have any business around here. ... Not everyone wants to drive to Telluride to clean hotel rooms.
Colorado regulators will decide in January whether to approve Pinion Ridge, the new uranium processing facility near Naturita.