By: Rose Egelhoff

Grand County Council Chair Mary McGann, County Council Member Curtis Wells, Moab City Council Member Tawny Knuteson-Boyd and UMTRA steering committee member Joette Langianese all recently returned from a trip to Washington, DC where they advocated for the county and city’s interests.

McGann, Knuteson-Boyd and Langianese went to advocate for full funding for the Uranium Mill Tailings Remedial Action, or UMTRA project. The project involves moving contaminated mill tailings from the Atlas uranium-ore processing facility by the Colorado River to a storage cell near Crescent Junction. Funding for UMTRA has dwindled in past years, pushing back the expected completion date of the project.

The UMTRA project was to be completed a couple years ago, McGann told the Grand County Council in a report on her trip. However, funding cuts pushed that date farther and farther back. The project is expected to be complete by 2034. The U.S. Department of Energy, which runs the project, has moved 9 million tons of tailings so far — 56 percent of the estimated 16 million total tons.

McGann, Knuteson-Boyd and Langianese met with numerous representatives and DOE staff. They met with the entire Utah delegation, including both Utah senators, and representatives John Curtis, Mia Love, Chris Stewart and Rob Bishop. They secured letters of support from Curtis, Love and Stewart, who all submitted letters to the Congressional Appropriations Committee requesting that the UMTRA project receive full funding ($45 million a year).

“I urge you to prioritize funding for the Non-Defense Environmental Cleanup account,” Curtis wrote in a letter to the appropriations committee in Washington.

McGann said the group also secured the support of the delegations from Arizona and California.

“We’re very pleased with our success,” said McGann. “We can’t count our chickens before they hatch but there is a really good chance we’re going to get this project funded at $45 million a year so that we can have it completed by 2024.”

Wells’ trip was more general in purpose. He attended a meeting of the National Association of Counties as a member of the Utah delegation. Wells represented Utah on NACo’s public lands subcommittee.

Wells met with Department of the Interior officials, with whom he discussed the Moab Master Leasing Plan put forth by the Bureau of Land Management and the proposed Arches reservation system. He also met with Representative Curtis to discuss the Arches reservation system and recent school shootings, as well as ideas to address the school shooting problem.

“John Curtis is uniquely positioned to contribute to that issue. He was an owner and operator of a target shooting business and he’s an avid gun owner but also a very open-minded problem solver,” said Wells.

“The commissioners in the state, they work very hard to travel and to represent their counties and their interests. The state legislature is the tip of the iceberg. It really does make a big difference when you’re in their office in Washington pressing the issue,” Wells added.

Read more: Moab Times-Independent – D C talks involve public lands tailings