The omnibus spending bill that President Barack Obama signed into law on Jan. 17 provides $38 million for operations at the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE)-managed site through the end of the federal fiscal year, according to the DOE’s Moab Federal Project Director Don Metzler.
That’s about $2.2 million more than the DOE requested for the current federal fiscal year, which runs through Sept. 30.
Metzler said he hasn’t figured out which member of Congress is responsible for the funding boost. But the inclusion of line-item funding for cleanup work at the site indicates that someone is there to champion the project, he said.
“In my own words, that was very surprising and that was very, very positive,” he told the Moab Tailings Project Steering Committee on Jan. 28.
Portage, Inc., the Idaho-based company that holds the federal contract for the Moab cleanup project, had to recently pause tailings shipments to its long-term disposal cell near Crescent Junction as a result of last year’s federal government shutdown. But there will not be any further curtailments this fiscal year, Metzler said.
“It’s clear sailing from here to the end of September,” he said.
Contract workers at the site have already made significant progress since cleanup activities began in April 2009.
As of last November, 40 percent of all tailings, or 6.4 million tons, had been shipped to the Crescent Junction-area disposal site.
While colder weather late last year slowed things down, Metzler said that cleanup activities are back to normal.
Further down the road, the DOE plans to move debris from the old Atlas Uranium mill away from the site. Atlas kept pretty good records, Metzler said, so the DOE knows for the most part what’s remaining in the pile, including huge bags filled with asbestos.
However, the cleanup of that material probably won’t begin under the current federal contract, Metzler said.
In the meantime, Grand County UMTRA liaison Lee Shenton said he’s been telling people not to assume that the tailings shipping rate will increase in the next week, or even the next month.
“There is a backlog,” Shenton said.
Metzler said the DOE still has to determine if it will need to hire additional workers.
The good news for now, though, is that the agency plans to retain its existing staff, which included 133 contractors and four federal employees as of early January.
“We really don’t want to lose anyone because we think it’s a great project,” he said. “We know we have a great workforce.”
Portage, Inc., was awarded the five-year, $121 million contract for the project in 2011.
For more information about the UMTRA Project, go to: www.moabtailings.org.