The community’s development of the 139 acres of land at the former Atlas uranium mill site isn’t commencing this decade, but that hasn’t stopped interested parties from envisioning what the future looks like in Moab.
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is cleaning up the former Atlas mill site. Known as the Moab Uranium Mill Tailings Remedial Action (UMTRA) Project, the DOE has moved over 9 million tons of uranium tailings to a disposal site in Crescent Junction. With an estimated 16 million tons of uranium tailings to dispose of, the project’s completion date is projected to be in 2035.
Seventeen years ahead of the completion year of the cleanup, the Moab Tailings Project Steering Committee has instructed the Site Futures Committee (SFC) to update the Initial Community Vision for the property.
SFC met at the Grand Center on Thursday, May 31, and hosted a community open house in a large meeting room with round tables, easels with land-use renderings, a projector with a time-lapse slide show of the site, and stacks of sticky notes and pens and pencils.
“We’re trying to get community input to see what has changed since our last 2013 community input meeting,” said Saxon Sharpe, vice chair of SFC. “What came out of the Initial Community Vision was in 2013, and now we’re updating it because a few things have changed — not a lot, but we have a little bit more information.”
About two dozen people attended the SFC open house throughout a two-hour window.
Community member Lara Derasary talked with UMTRA Community Liaison Lee Shenton and SFC char Russ von Koch during the open house. She said she did not attend the 2013 meetings for developing the community’s vision, but was able to view the drafts from 2013 displayed on easels during the open house.
“I read about it in the paper, so I decided I should come down and be engaged,” she said. “There’s so many development issues in the city right now.”
The community’s visions for the future uses of the land are diverse. The site is located adjacent to the Colorado River at U.S. Highway 191 and State Route 279 (Potash Road), neighboring protected wetlands and within proximity to a railroad spur.
As of now the site is closed to visitors, but the acreage will reportedly be turned over to local development. The SFC’s projection, based on community input from 2013, is to develop the land as a multi-use property that incorporates office buildings, public parks, parking lots and a museum.
A noticeable difference between the 2013 and 2018 renderings is a reduction in the size of the projected development to allow for the natural restoration of the Moab Canyon Wash.
“What the project team realized and shared with us here a few weeks ago is that, once the pile is gone, if the original grade is restored, then we should expect that Moab Wash will seek its original route — which was moved when the pile was built, it was displaced — so we now expect it to go through here, and that’s why we are showing that that part of (land) we thought we could develop before is probably a place we can’t count on developing,” Shenton said. “It will be the original Moab Wash route.”
Moab Canyon Wash’s original course will eventually allow the wash to have a natural confluence with the Colorado River, Shenton said.
This means there is a reduction of 23 acres in the development of the site, from approximately 139 acres to 116 acres (figures are approximate).
The drafted renderings are not close to being finalized, and committee members said that they will rely on all community comments to guide the decision-making process in developing the land.
Other community members at the committee meeting wrote comments on sticky notes and attached those to the proposed renditions of the site plans. Comments ranged from, “Solar farm for parking shade,” to, “No hotels!! No gas stations!! No convenience stores! Only small, independent businesses if any. Please no chain restaurants etc.”
The latter comment had a line of foil stars across the bottom — stickers left by people who read the comment and “voted” in agreement with it. But there was no formal voting or vetting process at the meeting. People came and went from the meeting at their own leisure; there was not a single designated speaker. Instead, people walked around the room, visiting different tables and listening to new ideas and digressions into old plans.
Norm Boyd, SFC at-large member, said he became involved because he cares about the legacy of Charlie Steen.
“My uncle was Charlie Steen, and he built the mill first,” Boyd said, “and I seem to be the only relative he has left who seems to want to set things as right as they can. So — while other relatives are building hotels here — I don’t have a lot of money, I’m trying to set things straight.”
Boyd, owner and operator of Norm’s Barber Shop on East Center Street, said he recently began asking his clients for their opinions on how the site should be developed in the future.
“[SFC] asked me to do a little impromptu (questioning), asking the locals what they would like,” he said. “It ran the gamut. One guy actually wants to put another uranium mill there because the guy has a trucking company and uranium claims, so he wants to do it all over again.”
Shenton said it’s unlikely the site would be developed again for a uranium site. The uranium boom was here and now it’s gone. What’s left in its place will be a graded piece of land in 2035, in a hot spot for recreational activity with multiple opportunities for redevelopment.
One idea that Shenton said he likes is the potential to develop the railroad spur at the edge of the property into a depot for passenger rail travelers.
“One of my favorite parts of this whole concept is a facility for light rail service to Moab,” Shenton said. “We’ve already got a rail bench up there and a spur from the main line, and yes, it needs to be used once or twice a week for shipping potash trains from downriver, but they could easily schedule to have light rail come in, and I could envision where visitors might fly into Salt Lake, take light rail to Moab and never have to drive between Salt Lake and Moab, or home and Moab.”
The UMTRA site’s SFC members have a lot of public comments to consider, but Shenton said it’s not too early to begin the process of envisioning the future of the site.
The SFC welcomes comments from the community to be included in the update through June 15. Submit comments online to moabtailings.org or submit by mail at Site Futures Committee, c/o UMTRA Liaison, 125 E. Center St., Moab.
UMTRA Site Futures Committee updates vision for land project
One guy actually wants to put another uranium mill there because the guy has a trucking company and uranium claims, so he wants to do it all over again.
What: Public comments to update the community vision for the former Atlas Mill site
Where: Online at moabtailings.org or submit by mail to Site Futures Committee, c/o UMTRA Liaison, 125 E. Center St., Moab.
Deadline: Comments must be submitted no later than June 15.