Rep. Jim Matheson fears slowdown in uranium cleanup
Government cuts spending; Idaho company replaces EnergySolutions as lead contractor.
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A new contract for cleaning up the uranium mill tailings cleanup outside of Moab brings in an Idaho company to replace lead contractor EnergySolutions, Inc., and Rep. Jim Matheson says it will also mean a dramatic slowdown of work at the site.

The Utah Democrat said the U.S. Department of Energy's announcement Friday of a new $121.2 million, five-year contract reflects significantly lower spending on the cleanup — and a longer time line for completing the job.

"I remain committed to seeing that DOE completes this project on the schedule set out by Congress," said Matheson in a news release.

"The health and safety of Utahns as well as the 25 million downstream users of the Colorado River is at stake. Taxpayers will also realize savings from a more rapid completion."

On Friday, the Energy Department announced Portage, Inc., a small business based in Idaho Falls, won the contract in competitive bidding.

A losing bidder was Salt Lake City-based EnergySolutions, which has been work on the job for more than two years to chip away at the pile, a 16 million- ton, 130-acre heap of uranium processing waste that was leaching several contaminants into the Colorado River.

At $20 million to $27 million in annual spending under the new contract, it will take longer.

Since February 2009, about 4.6 million tons of tailings have been hauled 29 miles north to a new disposal cell at Crescent Junction. In 2009 and 2010, DOE spent $40.6 million and 30.6 million, respectively, according to Matheson's office. And that doesn't include the $108 million in additional spending made possible under the two-year federal stimulus.

"In the last four years, tremendous progress has been made in moving the mill tailing materials away from the Colorado River," said Donald Metzler, who oversees the cleanup. "Today's award means that we can continue to advance cleanup at the Moab project and will bring the Department even closer to fulfilling its commitment here in Utah."

The DOE did not immediately respond to questions about Matheson's concern about a slowdown in the project under the new, scaled-down contract.

The cost for the entire cleanup is expected to be about $1 billion. And, under legislation sponsored by Matheson, the work must be done by 2019.

In Utah, the new contract sparked a mixture of relief and disappointment.

"I'm glad the work's going to continue," said Moab Mayor Dave Sakrison, adding that he was disappointed EnergySolutions didn't win a contract renewal.

Sakrison said he hoped the new contractor would retain the 150 workers on the job.

Sharing that sentiment was Pat Holyoak, a member of the Grand County Council and co-chair of the county work group that oversees the cleanup.

"Personally, I would rather it went to a Utah business," she said. Still, she was happy to see the Energy Department keep the Moab cleanup high on its priority list.

EnergySolutions also was disappointed about not being able to continue its work on the project. Only last week, the company shared the Energy Secretary's Achievement Award along with the federal oversight team and and S&K Aerospace, which provides technical and administrative support services.

"We hope the project continues to be successful," said company spokesman Mark Walker.