Moab resident Joe Kingsley looks at ideas for the future of the mill tailings site posted on a map at the Mill Site Futures Kick-off meeting held May 15 at the Grand Center. [Kristin Millis / Moab Sun News]

A little more than a third of the uranium mill tailings have been moved from the pile on the northside of the Colorado River. And though the Department of Energy (DOE) project to remediate the site may not be completed until 2025 or 2029, depending on federal funding, the Site Futures Committee is seeking public comment now.

A public workshop was held Wednesday, May 15 at the Grand Center. Those attending were invited to submit their ideas for the nearly 500-acre site north of Moab, across Highway 191 from Arches National Park.

Saxon Sharpe, the vice chair of the Site Futures Committee, said she felt like the public workshop went well.

“There was a lot of discussion and brainstorming and one idea generated other ideas,” Sharpe said.

There was some disappointment in the lack of citizens attending the meeting. The committee made 100 handouts, but only about 15 residents attended.

“Even with that, we now have over 50 suggestions on how to use the site,” Sharpe said.

The Site Futures Committee has an online suggestion form to accept additional ideas.

“We want all comments submitted by the end of May,” Sharpe said.

Uranium was processed at the site beginning in 1956 by the Uranium Reduction Company. By 1961 the facility expanded and wastes from the mill were slurried into an unlined pond. When more capacity was need, a larger bowl was bulldozed. The mill was sold to Atlas in 1962, and continued operation until 1984. Upon closure an estimated 16 million tons of uranium mill tailings and tailings-contaminated soil were left in the unlined pond. The Department of Energy took control of the site in 2001 for remediation and tailings removal began in 2009.

Workers are now shipping four trains of tailings each week. Nearly six million tons of tailings have been moved by rail to a permanent disposal site near Crescent Junction, 30 miles north of Moab.

Lee Shenton, the liaison for the Uranium Mill Tailings Remediation Action (UMTRA), said that there have been other mills and tailings ponds that have been remediated and repurposed for public use in the Colorado Plateau area.

The properties have had a variety of public uses, including a business park, an Army Reserve facility, a river parkway, a solar voltaic lease site and a waste water treatment site.

The location of the mill tailings site north of Moab is a valuable one. It sits on the north shore of the Colorado river, across from the 900-acre Matheson Wetlands Preserve. It is poised between the City of Moab and recreational areas such as Arches National Park, Dead Horse State Park and the Island in the Sky District of Canyonlands National Park to the north, as well as BLM land and boat ramps to the south.

The DOE now holds Colorado River rights that were associated with the uranium mill.

“These water rights have value and could be sold upon completion of the project to help offset site clean up costs. The community vision could consider requesting retention of those water rights necessary for maintenance of vegetation and other potential uses,” stated the committee’s opportunities report. Other assets associated with the property include access to electric, natural gas and communications lines.

There are limitations, however.

Although the entire site is 474 acres, due to 171 acres of floodplain, 104 acres of soil contamination, 102 acres of easements, and 29 acres of steep slopes – there may be less than 100 acres of viable land to fully develop.

“While the DOE will be removing the tailings down to clean soil, the depth of contamination is not fully known and the final elevation of the property under the tailings pile cannot be predicted,” stated the Site Futures Committee’s report on site constraints.

Cherie Major and Kim Sherwood attended the public workshop on Wednesday.

Major and Sherwood have been visiting Moab-area regularly since 2007 and recently moved to Moab from Spokane, Wash.

Their idea was to build an eco-friendly campground.

“Moab is leaning toward being green,” Major said. “Have Moab be a leader in the state for being green.”

Sharpe said that she feels the public process to determine the future of the site is solid.

“The committee members are working hard to put a vision together that represents the wishes of the community, that is reasonable for the site constraints, and that will be financially achievable,” she said.

Mill Tailings Site map