The project had been scheduled to temporarily shut down beginning in November, according to Grand County UMTRA Liaison Lee Shenton. But on Oct. 21, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) informed the 136 employees currently working at the site that the agency received an internal allocation to fund the project through Jan. 15, Shenton said.
“I talked to a couple of the employees, and they’re breathing a sigh of relief that they’re going to have most of their work through December,” he told the Moab Tailings Project Steering Committee on Oct. 22.
Under the funding deal, the DOE plans to schedule eight work curtailment days between late October and January.
No firm dates have been mentioned at this point, Shenton said, but the DOE will likely schedule the breaks around the upcoming holidays.
“Then they’re all up in the air again after Jan. 15 rolls around,” he said.
The Jan. 15 date is not an arbitrary one.
Congress reached a deal on Oct. 16 to end the federal government shutdown. But the stopgap measure it approved will only fund the government through mid-January.
“We are thankful the short-term funding measure enacted by Congress provides funding to continue moving tailings at least through mid-January,” Federal Project Director Donald Metzler told The Times-Independent.
Overall work at the UMTRA Project could wrap up by 2025. However, the pace of progress will depend on funding commitments from the federal government.
The first rail shipments from the project site to a disposal cell near Crescent Junction began in 2009, thanks to a boost of federal stimulus money.
As of August 2013, crews had removed 6.2 million tons of mill tailings. That accounts for a 39 percent drop from the 16 million tons entombed at the site when the Atlas uranium processing mill closed in 1984.
Portage, Inc., is the lead contractor on the project. The DOE awarded a $121 million contract to the Idaho Falls, Idaho-based company in late-2011.