County councilmen want changes to UMTRA site vision
by Rudy Herndon
Staff Writer
Jan 09, 2014 | 1094 views | 0 0 comments | 42 42 recommendations | email to a friend | print
A map released by the Moab UMTRA Site Futures Committee outlines the initial community vision for the property north of Moab that was once home to the Atlas Uranium Corp. processing mill. Map courtesy of Gary Wakefield, National Park Service
A map released by the Moab UMTRA Site Futures Committee outlines the initial community vision for the property north of Moab that was once home to the Atlas Uranium Corp. processing mill. Map courtesy of Gary Wakefield, National Park Service
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If the community vision for the Atlas Mill site is going to include space for federal office buildings, at least two county officials want to ensure those agencies would lease the land, instead of owning it outright.

Moab Tailings Project Steering Committee members asked the Grand County Council last month to approve a resolution that supports their initial recommendations for potential future uses of the 480-acre site. But the council ultimately held off on taking any action for the time being.

Grand County Council vice chairman Lynn Jackson said he cannot endorse the resolution unless it clearly states that the council would prefer to see the land under private ownership.

“I don’t necessarily have a problem with the federal facilities being there, but they need to lease [the space],” he said Dec. 17.

By his estimates, the federal government already owns 74 percent of the acreage in Grand County, and Jackson said he’s concerned that the county cannot afford any more federal land within its borders.

Grand County Council chairman Gene Ciarus said he shares Jackson’s concerns.

“Every chance we get, we need to lock on lands we can get for economic development,” Ciarus said.

The proposed federal office and research complex is just one of many proposed future uses for the sprawling Uranium Mill Tailings Remedial Action (UMTRA) site on the former Atlas Mill property. The conceptual vision for the site also reserves land for an outdoor concert and event center, a transit hub, a passenger rail station, a community park, open space and commercial development, among other things.

Committee members came up with an initial list of recommended uses based on community feedback they gathered during two public workshops in 2013. However, that list is merely a starting point for future planning efforts, and it’s expected to change over time, according to Moab Tailings Project Site Futures Committee chairman Russ von Koch.

“This is not a design. It’s a concept,” von Koch said during a Nov. 21 meeting with county and city officials.

At its heart, that concept embraces possible uses that could provide substantial economic and social benefits to the community.

It also helps the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) make the case for sufficient federal funding to pay for ongoing cleanup work at the site, according to an overview of the vision.

“A demonstrated interest in future uses of the site provides justification for continued funding of the Moab UMTRA Project at a level adequate to support year-round operations,” the overview says.

As of November 2013, crews had already hauled 6.4 million tons of uranium mill tailings, or 40 percent of the total, from the site to a permanent disposal area near Crescent Junction. But funding constraints disrupted tailings shipments between December 2012 and February 2013, and future cuts could delay the cleanup beyond the expected project completion date in 2025.

There is no guarantee that the DOE will ultimately transfer the property once it has been fully remediated. However, federal law states that UMTRA sites will eventually be returned to beneficial public use, according to Lee Shenton, the county’s UMTRA liaison.

“I think that they would like to transfer it, and that they expect to transfer it, but we need to do our part to make it happen,” Shenton said Nov. 21.

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