Local officials lukewarm on idea of storing mercury within county

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The federal government’s consideration of burying mercury at the same site where uranium mill tailings were disposed of south of Grand Junction has prompted reaction from Mesa County elected officials ranging from caution to criticism.

Asked for his thoughts on the plan, Republican state Rep. Steve King took a middle-of-the road stance, expressing neither support nor opposition.

In an e-mail to The Daily Sentinel, the representative for House District 54, whose boundaries encompass the area where the mercury would be stored, wrote that his primary concern “would be how close would the mercury storage be to water sources.”

King, who planned to attend Tuesday night’s scoping meeting in Grand Junction, said officials need to consider whether the storage site could act as a target for terrorists and take into account its impact on states in the lower basin of the Colorado River.

State Rep. Laura Bradford, R-Collbran, said she was surprised to learn about the proposal from the U.S. Department of Energy. She said that’s not only because she believes the notion violates the agreement under which the DOE buried 4.4 million cubic yards of mill tailings at the disposal site, but because the first time she learned about the plan was when she picked up The Daily Sentinel earlier this month.

Like other local elected officials, she was unaware the DOE was hunting for disposal sites for the liquid metal and considering the county as a possible destination. Bradford criticized the federal government for not doing a better job of communicating its plan with the community.

“It’s just good strategy,” she said. “Let’s get ahold of some local (elected officials), let’s run this thing up the flagpole with a few people.”

Not doing that “can appear as just a little bit of a lack of respect for the local community,” Bradford said.

She said the onus is on the DOE to “prove beyond a shadow of a doubt” that it has a system to safely store the mercury, and the department needs to unveil that system in a way “that has the scientific data backup and guarantees in order to even entertain the idea of (Grand Junction) wanting or desiring to remain on the short list.”

Like Bradford, Grand Junction Mayor Bruce Hill pointed to the DOE agreement for the storage of mill tailings as a deterrent to mercury storage.

“I would tell you that if the agreement originally was that that site was for a specific use, I would hope and encourage that that would be upheld,” he said.

Beyond that, Hill said he didn’t have enough information about the proposal to comment on it.

He said the City Council has yet to discuss the DOE’s plan but indicated it’s possible the board will take a formal position on it at some point.

State Sen. Josh Penry, R-Grand Junction, didn’t return calls seeking comment Tuesday.


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