At its annual recent meeting, Utah Guides and Outfitters Association (UGO) joined the call to move the Atlas tailings pile, citing the likelihood of catastrophic flooding that could send hazardous waste into the Colorado River at Moab and on downstream.
UGO represents more than 40 river- and land-based recreation companies in the state, many of them in Southeast Utah.
Members specialize in offering guided tours on public lands and waterways, and several UGO river managers have personal experience of high-water events.
In a letter to the U.S. Department of Energy, association president Denise Oblak pointed out that “catastrophic flooding on the Colorado River has happened in the past and it will happen again in the future.”
Oblak wrote, “UGO members are taking this stand to point out what they see as obvious: hazardous waste stored on the bank of a major river is a very bad idea.” The letter mentioned the recent Santa Clara River flood, which destroyed 20 homes in Southwest Utah as the river swelled from five to 6,500 cubic feet per second, and the threat to the Glen Canyon Dam during the 1983-84 run-off.
“Peak flows that year were not even at the level that would be expected from a 100-year or 500-year flood. If the river can threaten a concrete dam structure, it is not a huge stretch of the imagination to think it could potentially affect a dirt pile next to its shore.”
The outfitting association wants the pile moved to a permanent storage site at Klondike Bluffs or Crescent Junction because they are relatively remote and accessible by rail. UGO completely rejected the idea of capping the pile in place, and argued against moving the material by slurry line as a waste of water.
In its submission, UGO challenged the Dept. of Energy to abide by 1999 legislation that made it responsible for the pile, and which “contained a provision requiring the DOE to move the tailings away from the banks of the Colorado River and to clean up the groundwater.”
Finally, Oblak pointed out, “Of 21 similar tailings piles located throughout the nation, Moab’s pile is the only one that has not been moved. Nine of these 21 piles were located in flood plains, a risk factor that contributed to their removal. Why should the Moab Tailings Pile be treated differently? It should not.”
The public comment period for the Draft Environmental Impact Statement ends this Friday, Feb. 18. Copies of the draft EIS are available at the Grand County library and online at http://gj.em.doe.gov/moab. Comments can be E-mailed to firstname.lastname@example.org or faxed to 970-248-7636.