“That’s six [million tons] down and 10 [million tons] to go,” DOE Federal Project Director Don Metzler told the Grand County Council during the council’s meeting on Tuesday, June 18.
Metzler assisted council members in taking yet another puzzle piece representing 1 million tons of tailings and moving it from a plaque representing the pile over to a plaque representing the permanent disposal cell.
“We hope the next [million] will be even a little bit quicker,” Metzler said. He noted that while funding for the project is not guaranteed, President Obama’s budget request for the upcoming 2014 fiscal year includes nearly $36 million for Moab Uranium Mill Tailings Remedial Action Project (UMTRA). If the $36 million is approved, it would allow year-round operations to resume at the UMTRA site, he said.
Portage, Inc., the Idaho-based company that currently holds the DOE contract for the cleanup, announced last year that it would operate on a nine-month work schedule unless additional funding for the work is provided by Congress. The federal contract awarded to Portage in the spring of 2012 provided a budget of $121.2 million over five years, giving the company approximately $24 million per year to operate the cleanup effort. County officials and local residents have urged congressional representatives to allocate more money so that work can continue year-round.
Metzler said this week that the contractor has made significant progress, even with limited funds.
“The federal budget continues to be stretched thin, and I am proud this project has used its limited funding wisely and is almost 38 percent complete,” Metzler said in a news release. “This has been accomplished while striving to exceed DOE’s stringent safety goals and despite a first-ever, three-month curtailment of shipping operations this past winter.”
Portage officials praised the work crews at the UMTRA site.
“The employees deserve the credit for this significant project milestone,” said Jeff Biagini, remedial action contractor project manager for Portage, Inc. “Having a workforce that is dedicated to performing its work at the highest level and in the safest manner is what got us to this point.”
“We’re doing as much as we can with the amount they’ve given us,” Metzler said Tuesday night. “We’re off to a great start. The morale is high, and safety is great.”
The Cold War-era tailings are transported by railroad car in sealed metal containers to the disposal site near Crescent Junction. There, the contaminated material is placed in a DOE-constructed, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission-approved disposal cell and capped with a nine-foot-thick, multi-layered cover composed of native soils and rock.
Times-Independent correspondent Jeff Richards contributed to this report.