EPA awards multi-million contract to assess abandoned uranium mines

Noel Lyn Smith
Farmington Daily Times
In this file photo, U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., right, talks on Oct. 2, 2015, with Gilbert Dayzie, a civil engineer with the Shiprock Abandoned Mine Land Reclamation Program, while touring a former uranium mine in the Red Valley Chapter in Arizona.


FARMINGTON — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has awarded a $85 million contract to a California based company to assess cleanup activities for abandoned uranium mines on the Navajo Nation.

The agency announced Wednesday that Tetra Tech Inc. will use the contract to assess uranium contamination at 30 abandoned mines.

EPA Region 9 spokeswoman Margot Perez-Sullivan said in an email today the mines are in Cove Chapter and in the northern portion of the reservation.

In addition, Tetra Tech will partner with Navajo Technical University in Crownpoint to train tribal members for work related to assessment and cleanup of the sites.

The contract also has the company starting an internship program for students and forming partnerships with the Navajo Engineering and Construction Authority and local businesses for services that cover engineering, assessment, environmental consulting and translation.

"Tetra Tech's plan to train and employ Navajo members is an important aspect of EPA's commitment to support the local economy and clean up the legacy of uranium mining contamination in and around the Navajo Nation," said Deborah Jordan, acting deputy regional administrator for Region 9.

From 1944 to 1986, approximately 30 million tons of uranium ore was mined on or near the reservation. The activity left more than 500 abandoned mines, according to the EPA.

Navajo Nation Council Delegate Kee Allen Begay Jr. represents Blue Gap-Tachee, Cottonwood-Tselani, Low Mountain, Many Farms and Nazlini in Arizona.

Residents in the chapters represented by Begay have experienced health issues due to abandoned uranium mines.

"It is good news, but we should keep in mind that there are still people living with health issues every day due to abandoned mines and there are still many mines that present danger to our people," Begay said in a press release from the Office of the Speaker.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636.