Funds to speed Moab tailings removal

The mill tailing pile near Moab and Archers National Park along the banks of the Colorado River. The mill is going under a cleanup project.

The federal government will provide $108 million from the economic stimulus package to push ahead more quickly with the cleanup of uranium mill tailings from Moab, Utah.

The new spending will more than double the number of employees from 125 to at least 275, officials with the U.S. Department of Energy said.

The cleanup is scheduled to begin April 20 and is estimated to cost about $1 billion, which will be paid by the Department of Energy.

“Grand County has an astonishing economic stimulus package going on,” Bob Greenberg, chairman of the county council, said Tuesday.

In addition to be beefed-up cleanup, the county has more than $100 million in other construction projects moving ahead, Greenberg said.

The additional funding for the mill-tailings pile will enable the Energy Department to
begin with a seven-day-a-week schedule for removing the pile instead of four days a week, which had been planned.

The additional money also will enable the cleanup to use more rail cars this fall. The cleanup will begin with a 22-car train that by this fall will become a 34-car train.

Each car will carry four containers filled with mill tailings.

The additional funding will make it possible to remove an additional 2 million tons by September 2011, which is when the department’s current contract with Energy Solutions of Salt Lake City will end.

Officials are hiring in the local area through Utah Work Force Services offices.

U.S. Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, whose district includes Moab, said the additional money means “my deadline for completion of the cleanup by 2019 is being backed up by the resources necessary to meet it.”

The mill-tailings pile that sits along the banks of the Colorado River has long been a 16-million-ton pain in the neck for officials from Utah, Nevada, Arizona and California, who worry that a flood could wash part of the pile into the river and eventually into domestic water supplies of 25 million people downstream. Cleanup, for instance, has long been a priority of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.

Efforts began in the 1990s to move the pile, and the Bush administration began the process in 2005, with a 2028 deadline for completion. Officials in Grand County lobbied to get the cleanup into a faster gear, Greenberg said.

“The shorter time the pile is open and it’s in play, the better for everybody,”
Greenberg said.

To clean up the site, trucks loaded with mill tailings will drive to a gantry that will lift the containers to a rail line above the site. The loaded containers will be hauled 33 miles north to Crescent Junction, where they will be buried in a mile-long, half-mile-wide repository.

The additional jobs will be a “wonderful thing to help our economy,” said Kammy Wells, executive director of the Moab Chamber of Commerce.

They’ll also put pressure on the rental market, Greenberg said.

In addition to the cleanup, the school district is planning $31 million in new construction, and a new Colorado River bridge, costing $40 million, is being prepared.

Grand County is putting the final touches on plans to build a new hospital for $25 million, plus an extended-care center for $5 million. A $4 million recreation center is on the way, and a $1 million bike-trail extension is under way.

“We’re very pleased,” Greenberg said. “A little nervous, but very pleased.”


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