Administration plan trims funds for Moab-area tailings work

The Obama administration wants to reduce spending for the removal of millions of tons of uranium mill tailings near Moab, Utah.

The administration’s budget for fiscal 2012, which begins Oct. 1, proposes to slice about $9 million in federal spending on the project, reducing the amount budgeted for fiscal 2012 to about $30 million.

The end result would be the job simply will take longer and be more expensive in the long run, said Don Metzler, who heads the cleanup for the U.S. Department of Energy from his Grand Junction office.

The project was expected to cost $1 billion and be completed by 2019.

It employs about 220 people who pick up uranium mill tailings from where they were piled along the Colorado River during the uranium boom that began in the 1940s. Metzler noted that 65 to 70 employees on the project live on the Colorado side of the state line.

U.S. Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, whose district includes Moab, was disappointed because he hoped to have the cleanup complete by October 2019, his office said.

With no opportunity to add earmarks to the budget, it’s unclear whether there is any way to pump up the funding level, Matheson’s office said.

Additional money last year from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act prompted officials to move the expected completion date forward from 2025.

“If we get less money, we’ll have less of a work force,” and that means the project simply can’t be done as quickly, Metzler said.

“The cheaper we can get it done, the cheaper it is for the taxpayer,” he said.

The Energy Department started the cleanup in 2009, loading the tailings into rail cars bound for Crescent Junction, about 30 miles to the north, where they are being buried at the base of the Book Cliffs.

Officials from California to Colorado sought to have the tailings removed, citing their threat to the water supplies of Arizona, California and Nevada.

The cuts are part of the Obama administration’s $3.7 trillion budget, which was met with sharp criticism by Republicans in Congress.


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