Mill-tailings removal stalled until next spring

Work to remove the mill tailings pile near Moab, Utah, continues. The snow-covered La Sal Mountains are seen in the background.

Cleanup of a tailings pile on the north bank of the Colorado River will come to a temporary halt next week, leaving 27 people without jobs.

Those people, however, will be able to return to their jobs in March, when work to move the pile away from the river and to a disposal cell 30 miles north near Crescent Junction will resume, officials said.

The project now has moved about 5.7 million tons of tailings from the site of the former Climax uranium mill.

The hiatus is the result of a change in the contractor for the project from Salt Lake City-based Energy Solutions Federal services to Idaho-based Portage Inc.

The new contractor determined that it needed only nine months to ship 650,000 tons of tailings, the quantity specified in its contract, said Wendee Ryan, public affairs manager for S&K Aerospace, the technical-assistance contractor for the U.S. Department of Energy for the project.

Portage has found jobs for much of the workforce associated with the project, “but the bottom line is that 27 out of 112 people will be laid off,” Ryan said.

The affected employees will have health benefits and unemployment benefits until the project starts anew in the spring, Ryan said.

The remaining employees won’t lack for things to do over the winter, Ryan said.

Many of the workers will maintain the equipment being used to excavate and transport the tailings by rail to Crescent Junction, Ryan said. Some will line the containers that carry the tailings with plastic liners that will prevent tailings from sticking to the sides and being carried back to the pile after being emptied at the disposal cell. Other will keep up with critical operations, such as dust control, environmental monitoring, health and safety jobs and other work, Ryan said.

The project is scheduled to be complete in 2025.


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