Agency not opening uranium disposal site

Bureau of Land Management officials plan to re-word a notice that led several Moffat County residents to think a federal agency was opening a disposal site for uranium byproducts.

The U.S. Department of Energy is asking the bureau for a 160-acre parcel outside of Lay, which is part of a site mined in the 1970s. Umetco Mining Corporation is handling site cleanup.

After the cleanup, the energy department will manage the property.

The bureau is charged with managing all public land for a variety of users. But the 160-acre site won't be open to the public because uranium byproducts are buried on it.

The energy department said it would monitor air and water quality, and work to prevent buried "tailings" from being disturbed and released into the air. Tailings, slightly radioactive, are what remain after the usable portions of uranium are extracted from soil or rock.

"We withdraw the land from public entry to protect people in the future," said Steve Schiesswohl, a realty officer for the energy department.

The property eventually could be released for surface use, such as grazing, but any future mining would be counter-productive to the department's goals, he said.

Future mining is exactly what members of Northwest Colorado Cares -- a citizen group that opposes uranium mining or disposal in Moffat County -- are afraid of.

The bureau's federal register notice states that the energy department is requesting the property "to be utilized as a uranium mill tailings disposal site."

"We were under the impression it was (bureau) land that was contaminated and not cleaned up," group member Terrie Barrie said. "We thought it was going to be used as a new tailing site.

Barrie spoke with bureau representatives late Thursday afternoon and said she was reassured the land transfer wasn't to create a new disposal site.

"We just wanted to verify we're all on the same page," she said. "We do have an issue if they're using that property to store tailings."

Schiesswohl said he's received several calls from Moffat County residents about the transfer.

Residents have until Jan. 26 to comment about the transfer and can request a public meeting. Northwest Colorado Cares was in the process of drafting a comment but may not file it if there is no possibility the land will be used as a uranium tailings disposal site.

Information on the transfer is available by calling (303) 239-3706.

Christina M. Currie can be reached at 824-7031, ext. 210, or ccurrie@craigdailypress.com.

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