UMTRA report: One-fourth of area could be used in future but ground water will always be contaminated

By Doug McMurdo • The Times-Independent

The Moab City Council voted unanimously to support through a resolution the 2018 Community Vision update on the Uranium Mill Tailings Remediation Action – UMTRA – project at Monday’s Sept. 10 meeting. The move follows on the heels of the Grand County Council doing the same in August.

The goal to remove 16 million tons of uranium tailings abutting the Colorado River a few miles northwest of the city and transporting it to Crescent Junction for disposal is about 57 percent complete, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

Tuesday’s update provided by Russ von Koch was in response to a joint decision the city and county councils made in 2013 that requires UMTRA officials to provide community vision status reports on the project to local governments every five years. Von Koch said there could be three more visioning meetings over the next 15 years as the project continues.

The site where the Atlas Mineral Corporation processed uranium ore includes roughly 480 acres. Community input regarding plans for the site range from a desire to provide trails, possibly an ice rink, even affordable housing. Von Koch made it clear the community vision effort is conceptual in nature and “not a plan,” but it is “useful for funding appeals.”

“Trails are very popular,” said von Koch when discussing the results of the latest round of public comment. Not surprisingly, perhaps, support for commercial projects has waned significantly since 2013, “especially for hotels,” he said. Residents want to see the focus on residents, he said, no chain or big box stores, and for affordable housing.

A 2.5-mile trail would surround the project and connect to other trailheads. A venue for performances and a community center are also high on the list of items.

Support for the proposed ice rink, a very popular request in 2013, according to von Koch, has waned over the past five years. The current plan calls for the construction of a reflecting pool about the size of a regulation hockey rink – 200 feet long by 85 feet wide – that could be used when and if it freezes in the winter.

While the site is more than 400 acres in size, von Koch said only 114 of those acres could be used. About 130 acres are covered in the tailings. “At this point, we’re not recommending overnight use,” said von Koch. He said that decision wouldn’t be made until remediation work is complete and the data, specifically radioactivity, could be analyzed.

The DOE objective, he said, is to remove the contaminated dirt and replace it with clean fill. Even more alarming is the question of water. “We’ll never be able to use the groundwater,” said von Koch. “It’s not feasible anyway. It’s very salty.”