By Judy Fahys
The Salt Lake Tribune Atlas tailings project manager Don Metzler, with the Department of Energy, stands in front of the site near Moab where millions of tons of uranium waste have been removed. A new contract went to an Idaho company to take over from EnergySolutions Inc. And Rep. Jim Matheson said he is concerned that a scale-back in funding will slow down the project.
A new contractor is set to take over the uranium-mill cleanup near Moab by the end of the month.
The transition follows last week's decision by the U.S. Government Accountability Office to deny bid protests by two companies currently working on the $1 billion project, Salt Lake City-based EnergySolutions Inc. and Colorado-based Gonzales-Stoller Remediation Services.
The cleanup team had a three-month extension on its contract to remove the uranium tailings pile near Moab after filing the protest in November.
Since then, GAO investigators had been reviewing the U.S. Energy Department's decision to award a new contract to an Idaho company instead of keeping EnergySolutions and Gonzales-Stoller on the job. After doing a routine review of the protest, the GAO denied the contractors' request to overturn the Energy Department's decision on March 2.
Idaho Falls-based Portage Inc., which won the five-year, $121.2 million contract in competitive bidding, will take over the work. A call to Portage was not returned.
EnergySolutions has been chipping away for more than two years at the pile, a 16 million-ton, 130-acre heap of uranium-processing waste that was leaching contaminants into the Colorado River. The pile is what's left of the uranium mill built by Charlie Steen in the 1950s and operated by the Atlas Corp. until 1984.
Nearly 11 million tons of contaminated waste has yet to be removed from the site and hauled to a specialized landfill 30 miles north of Moab in Crescent Junction. About 5 million tons have been moved already in hopes of stopping leakage of contaminants like uranium and ammonia into the adjacent Colorado River, a water source for more than 25 million people in the West.
EnergySolutions spokesman Mark Walker said details of the transition have not been settled. "We have to evaluate what the next steps are," he said.
U.S. Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, has raised questions about switching contractors. Making a change now might lead to a slowdown of the cleanup, which he wants to see completed no later than 2019.