Local citizens have begun mapping a future use for the former Atlas uranium mill property three miles north of Moab, and their vision looks green.
Fifteen people attended a workshop Wednesday, May 15, at the Grand Center. Some suggested the 484-acre parcel be used for such things as a botanical garden, solar panel site, public camping area, habitat for birds and wildlife, and even keeping it an open space for walking and biking.
The session marked the start of the public input process leading to a new life for the land, which is now managed by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) as contamination remediation continues. The cleanup is projected to be finished in 2025.
The workshop was sponsored by the Site Futures Committee, an arm of Grand County’s Moab Tailings Project Steering Committee. Grand County remediation project liaison Lee Shenton said the Site Futures group hopes to give an initial report to the Grand County Council by the end of the year, outlining citizens’ hopes for the property.
Not everyone who attended last week’s workshop proposed strictly green uses. One person suggested a transit hub for rail and bus passengers as well as railroad freight distribution. Another proposed a high-end resort with a golf course.
During an interview, Joe Kingsley, who attended the workshop, said he supports the resort idea. He estimates the undeveloped land is worth approximately $2 million, with access to Colorado River water increasing that value to $2.3 million.
He said he would like Grand County to sell the land to a developer for the price of the property and 10 percent of future profits.
“We need jobs,” Kingsley said. “We need revenue.”
A transit hub could be developed along with the resort, he said, with buses taking visitors to Arches National Park, which currently suffers from lack of parking during popular seasons.
In a document provided to The Times-Independent, Kingsley suggested the city of Moab and Grand County form a public/private partnership to develop the land.
“Carefully plan the development to be an iconic, world class facility, which would have a high-end resort, and convention meeting capabilities with strict light pollution control …,” he wrote. “The cleared 480 acres, with water rights, has a current estimated value for development purposes of at least 16 million dollars.”
However, there’s no assurance that Grand County will receive ownership of the land once it’s clean of radiation. Federal agencies such as the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the National Park Service has first right of refusal, Site Futures Committee chairman Russ Von Koch noted during his presentation last week.
The site has significant potential for the county’s economy, he said.
“It’s a great property,” Von Koch said. “It’s the gateway to Moab and it’s on the Colorado River. We want to keep it as an economic engine for Grand County.”
Rock Smith of the BLM said there are some constraints to future development of the former mill site. There is no municipal water or sewer on site, there are wetlands along the Colorado River, and part of the property lies in two flood plains, he said.
Smith estimated that about 100 acres of the amount of land is without such constraints.
According to a handout from the Site Futures Committee, a variety of uses have been found on the Colorado Plateau where mill sites and tailings remediation work has been completed. Former DOE sites in Utah and Colorado include a U.S. Army reserve facility, a nonprofit city and county sponsored business incubator, storm water collection ponds, a riverfront trail, a solar voltaic lease site, wastewater treatment plants, and park and recreational uses.
Additional public comment will be taken until May 31, when the Site Futures Committee will begin studying the input and narrowing down possible choices.
Comments on future uses may be submitted to firstname.lastname@example.org or on the website www.moabtailings.org/sfc.htm. Verbal comments may be made by calling Shenton at 435-259-1795 and written comments may be submitted to the Site Future Committee, c/o UMTRA Liaison, Grand County Courthouse, 125 E. Center St., Moab, UT 84532.