County backs keeping tailings dump site open
Identical measures to extend the life of the Grand Junction Disposal Cell for low-level radioactive wastes are now before Congress, both with the support of the Mesa County Commission.
The commission on Monday approved letters of support for a measure carried by U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton and a companion bill by U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, both Colorado Republicans.
The measures would extend until 2048 the ability of the U.S. Department of Energy to operate the cell, which was constructed in 1990 to contain the material collected during a cleanup of homes, businesses and other buildings constructed with mill tailings.
Tailings, as the material was known, was the fine, sandy remains of rock crushed in the process of milling uranium.
The cell, located about 18 miles southeast of Grand Junction, now contains nearly 4.5 million cubic yards of contaminated material. The cell has room for another 235,000 cubic yards of waste.
State officials now respond to some 200 inquiries per year about tailings that still remain in the Grand Valley, said Pete Baier, deputy administrator for operations. Three Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment employees deal with tailings-related inquiries, he said.
If the cell were to be closed, the nearest disposal facility would be in Clive, Utah, and transferring contaminated material there would be prohibitively expensive, especially for homeowners or private businesses, Commissioner Scott McInnis said.
The federal government covers cleanup costs for local governments and other organizations and it should do the same for individuals, resident Janet Johnson said.
The commission should condition its support for the legislation with requests for such support, Johnson said.
Contaminated material should not be brought in from other areas of the country to the Grand Junction cell, she said.
“It’s good to keep it open, but it’s good to keep it restricted to our region,” she said.