Grand Junction faced cleanup earlier
Special to the Daily Record
JUNCTION -- It took years, cost many millions of dollars, disrupted
traffic, tore up basements and patios and required delicate political
also provided thousands of jobs at a time when the economy was tanked
by the oil shale bust and removed a public relations black eye caused
by national magazines calling Grand Junction ``the town that glows
in the dark.''
was the mill tailings clean-up, the costly legacy of the Cold War
when Western Slope uranium was processed at the Climax Mill in Grand
Junction and other towns. Canon City could experience something
similar if the Cotter Corp. mill is ever shut down.
thought at the time to be harmful, the uranium mill tailings in
Grand Junction were used as free construction fill throughout town
during the 1950s and 1960s. Foundations, basements, patios, retaining
walls and streets were contaminated with the low-level radiation
left in the tailings after processing. The Climax Mill sat on the
bank of the Colorado River.
today, after the $450 million clean-up, radiation surveys are required
for building permits to make sure properties are clean.
those in the forefront of the political infighting and fund-seeking
still wonder if it was necessary.
danger was insignificant,'' said former state Sen. Tillie Bishop,
R-Grand Junction. ``But we were living with a bad image. We lost
companies we were trying to recruit because of it.''
Genova, a Mesa County commissioner whose first term starting in
1989 coincided with the turmoil of shipping the tailings out of
town for disposal, first encountered federal involvement long before
she got into politics.
oldest son was five when the family moved into a Fruitvale house
in 1971. In the basement was monitoring equipment installed by federal
authorities as a ``control house'' free from tailings.
I first saw the stuff in the basement I was going to throw it out,''
Genova said. ``From time to time they'd come out for more work than
meter-reading and sometimes they'd pack us all off to a motel for
a few days. The DOE always paid.''
1978, the federal government -- but not many local Grand Junction
citizens or leaders -- was sufficiently concerned about danger from
the low-level tailings in Grand Junction and other western mill
towns that it passed the Uranium Mill Tailings Radiation Control
was designed and funded 90 percent, with states picking up the rest,
to clean up 24 abandoned sites. In Grand Junction, 4,200 separate
properties, in addition to the Climax Mill, were found to contain
the Colorado Legislature, Bishop and other Western Slope legislators
scrambled to assemble the necessary 10 percent state match for the
state wouldn't do all of it,'' Bishop recalls. ``Part came from
energy impact funds.''
a delicate compromise, other northwestern Colorado counties agreed
to loan their expected energy impact fund disbursements to Mesa
County -- money that was gradually paid back, Bishop said.
costs ran way over,'' he said. ``So we set up an oversight committee
to keep all of the parties from taking advantage. We needed a watch
of vicinity properties - residential and commercial - began about
1984. Unemployed oil shale workers hauled dirt with their pickups
and small trucks from basements and driveways to the Climax mill
site, where it was piled until the mill cleanup began. In 1989,
the city of Grand Junction and Mesa County locked horns with the
DOE on its plans to truck 4.6 million cubic yards of stockpiled
dirt and tailings from the Climax mill through town out to the Cheney
disposal site near Whitewater, about 10 miles southeast.
the DOE agreed to ship the tailings out of Grand Junction by rail
to Whitewater. The federal government built an eight-mile haul road
so trucks could finish the job. By 1991, contaminated soil and tailings
were enroute to the Cheney site. Work was complete by late 1993.
The Climax mill site was certified clean in March 1997 and the site
is now the future Las Colonias Park, which the city of Grand Junction
plans to start developing next year.
the haul road was torn up after the project's completion, the DOE
donated the right-of-way to the state. Today, it's a four-lane segment
of U.S. 50.
biggest fight was against truck-only and we won that one,'' Genova
said. ``Whether it was all necessary I don't know, but at the time
it pulled us out of the dumpster.
was all new money and it put people to work,'' she said. ``We put
every guy laid off from oil shale to work on the vicinity properties,
and it saved us.''
said that the federal funding provided for clean-up projects has
expired, and the state's economic downturn has left Colorado with
little money to share future costs.
came in under the federal legislation that's expired,'' she said.
``We were there when it was a targeted project. So I don't have
any idea where they'll go for funding'' should a similar clean-up
ever be undertaken in Canon City.
Berry today is the spokeswoman for the DOE's Grand Junction office.
Back in the 1980s when the push was on to obtain federal funding,
Berry worked for Colorado Sen. Gary Hart and later for Sen. Tim
Cheney disposal cell will stay open for a few years for the Monticello
(Utah) clean-up project and future extractions of tailings from
Grand Junction properties missed in the original clean-up, she said.
hard to believe it was that long ago and took as long to do it as
it did,'' she said.
Miller is a freelance writer who lives in Grand Junction. She is
a former staff member of the Colorado Associated Press.