Jeff Biagini, project manger for Idaho-based Portage Inc., said work has been found for 85 of the 112 employees on the project. Portage holds the U.S. Department of Energy contract to haul 650,000 tons a year of contaminated material from the site to a permanent holding facility near Crescent Junction about 30 miles north of Moab.
“It worked out much better than we had originally anticipated,” Biagini said of winter employment opportunities.
He called the 27 workers at Moab and Crescent Junction facilities who will be laid off “a significantly lower number than we thought. For the most part, those 27 people preferred to take that time off. They had other plans or had enough finances.”
“Nobody who wanted to keep working will be laid off,” said Lee Shenton, Grand County’s liaison to the cleanup project.
He said those remaining on the job will either work at Moab or at Portage’s other facilities in the Four Corners region.
Some of the people remaining at the Moab site will continue radiation monitoring, dust control and site security, according to Biagini.
“We want to make sure we are well in compliance to keep people safe and secure,” he said.
Shenton noted that workers will continue to run well-field operations during the curtailment to prevent tailings contaminants from moving from the subsurface to the Colorado River. He called keeping the river uncontaminated “the key to the whole thing.”
Other workers will install permanent liners in each container used to transport material to Crescent Junction. Until now, Portage has used disposable liners in containers to make sure no residue comes back to the former mill site after dumping.
The permanent liners, made of half-inch plastic, will do the same job while saving $3 million through the end of the project in 2025, Biagini said. It is so slippery that no contaminated dirt can cling to it, he explained.
“It’s a specialty product generally used in industry,” he said.
The permanent liners will pay for themselves in four years, when Portage’s current contract with the DOE expires, Biagini said. He added the liner work will take the full three-month period during which the tailings relocation project is being curtailed.
Meanwhile, three other workers will stay at the Moab site to do maintenance work on heavy equipment. Some of the machinery’s bigger components need to be removed and rebuilt, Biagini said.
Four subcontractor workers found jobs in Nevada that coincide with the three-month slowdown, while three construction workers are going to jobs in Huntington and one construction worker will be employed in Grand Junction, Colo.
Biagini said two other workers’ employment ended with the curtailment, including a temporary employee hired on a part-time basis and a temporary worker hired until curtailment began. Another worker resigned in November.
Details of the layoffs and the project’s progress will be discussed Tuesday, Nov. 27, during a meeting of the Uranium Mill Tailings Remedial Action steering committee. It will be at 3 p.m. in the Grand County Council chambers, 125 E. Center St. in Moab.
Portage announced in April that it would suspend the cleanup project from December through February as the most efficient schedule based on its federal contract. The company receives $24 million each year for five years, and officials decided a nine-month schedule was the most cost-effective.