The United States Department of Energy is preparing an environmental impact statement regarding the contaminated soils and ground water at the Moab uranium mill tailings site in Grand County.
As an initial part of the process, DOE conducted a public scoping meetings in Carbon County last week because one of the five proposed sites being considered for disposal of the tailings is the East Carbon Development Corporation landfill. Another site is near Crescent Junction east of Green River in Grand County.
The public meeting last Tuesday at East Carbon City drew more than 60 people. DOE officials outlined the process of selecting a disposal site and explained the status of the contaminated area in Moab. DOE is considering on- and off-site recommendations for disposal of tailings.
Off-site disposal alternatives currently include four locations in Utah: Klondike Flats near Moab; Crescent Junction, about 20 miles east of the town of Green River; the White Mesa Mill near the town of Blanding in San Juan County; and ECDC.
DOE officials pointed out that the matter remains in the initial scoping period that will continue through Feb. 14. They are considering all comments received or postmarked by the designated date.
The meeting in East Carbon provided the public with an opportunity to present comments, ask questions and discuss concerns regarding the environmental impact statement.
Two of the off-site locations, including the one in Carbon County, are already waste disposal sites. Located 100 miles northwest of Moab, ECDC is licensed by the state to receive solid and some industrial waste, but not radioactive material. The estimated total lifetime disposal capacity of the facility is 300 million cubic yards.
ECDC is operating under a May 1990 permit issued by the Utah Bureau of Solid and Hazardous Waste, which subsequently became the Utah Department of Environmental Quality.
White Mesa Mill has an existing NRC-licensed uranium mill with on-site lined ponds. An amended license would be required. The particular site is 85 miles south of Moab and about six miles south of Blanding. There is a potential at that site for recycling and extracting remaining materials.
Citizens attending last Tuesday's meetings were given five minutes to air concerns. There were as many questions as there were comments. U.S. Department of Energy officials addressing the gathering were Joel Berwick, Tracy Plessinger, Audrey Berry and Don Metzler.
Among the people who commented were Don and Connie McCourt, who were involved as a city councilman and citizen representative in the process to locate the ECDC site in East Carbon.
Don McCourt voiced a concern regarding the possible contamination of the local area through dust. He pointed out that, during the negotiations to establish ECDC, it was clear that landfill would not take radioactive material.
"Why would we take a chance of contaminating two more water systems, travel through two counties and over 100 miles of roadway to get contaminated soil out of their backyard and into our ours?" asked Don McCourt. He said there is the potential of contaminating millions of acres between East Carbon and Moab.
Connie McCourt pointed out that the prevailing winds circle the valley and she feels the chances of contamination would put the communities of East Carbon and Columbia in danger.
A representative of the Sierra Club from Moab explained that the organization feels it would not be appropriate to transport the material to an area outside Grand County. The group favors considering one of the two areas having the least impact on the environment as well as the health and safety of people as possible - the sites in the desert north of Moab.
According to the Times-Independent newspaper in Moab, many Grand County residents are frustrated because a cleanup decision has taken so long.
At the meeting in Blanding, representatives from the White Mesa Ute tribe opposed transporting the contaminated waste to the White Mesa mill. A representative told DOE officials at the scoping meeting that she feels it could endanger the tribe's water supply and the mill is located on ancestral burial grounds.
DOE is also evaluating the feasibility of capping the tailings at the current location.
According to Lisa Church, a newpaper reporter who covered the Moab meeting, most of the Grand County residents in attendance at the scoping session urged DOE to move the 13 million ton tailings pile from the existing site on the banks of the Colorado River.
Under the off-site disposal alternatives, DOE indicated that three transportation modes will be evaluated. The transportation modes include truck, rail and slurry pipeline for some or all of the locations under consideration.
A primary purpose of the scoping meetings is to solicit public comments and suggestions for considerations in preparation of the federal agency's environmental impact assessment.
The U.S. Department of Energy has identified a several concerns, which include:
Ground water contamination mitigation and prevention.
Impacts to human health and safety.
Impacts to protected, threatened, endangered or sensitive species of animals or plants or critical habitats.
Impacts to floodplains and wetlands.
Impacts to cultural or historical resources.
Impacts on air, soil, and water.
Noise and visual impacts.
Disproportionately high and adverse impacts to minority and low income populations.
Long-term surveillance and maintenance of the site.
Future land uses.
Impacts from natural disasters such as climate change, flooding or seismic events.
Impacts to traffic and transportation systems.
The U.S. Department of Energy will accept public comments about the environmental impact statement by telephone. Residents may submit comments by calling the federal agency toll-free at 800-637-4575.
Comments regarding the project may also be e-mailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Additional information regarding to uranium mill tailings project is available at the Grand Junction DOE website www.gjo.doe.gov/moab/moab.html.