Scoping meeting focuses on Shiprock evaporation pond's future

The pond receives groundwater pumped from a disposal cell placed over a former uranium and vanadium ore processing facility in Shiprock.

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SHIPROCK — A public scoping meeting by the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Legacy Management centered on proposals for future operation of the evaporation pond at the Shiprock Disposal Site.

Mark Kautsky, federal project director for the office, shared details about the recommendations and listened to comments at the Aug. 22 meeting at the Shiprock Chapter house.

Public engagement is the first step in preparing an environmental assessment for the pond, he said. He added the evaluation will take more than a year.

"Let's work together on this, to try and come up with a solution that works for this community. That's what we're asking," Kautsky said.

Pond almost 20 years old

The pond was constructed in 2002 and it is part of the groundwater remediation program for the disposal cell that covers tailings piles and contaminated material from a former uranium and vanadium ore processing facility.

The 11-acre pond is lined with an engineered clay barrier and a geomembrane liner, and holds groundwater pumped from the disposal cell.

Kautsky said the geomembrane liner has a 20-year manufacturer warranty, but it is aging and has needed repairs.

With that in mind, the office must decide the pond's future, he said.

Three options for pond

Under the first option, groundwater would no longer be pumped from the disposal cell and the pond would be removed.

Whatever groundwater and sediment exist inside the pond at the time of its removal would be transported to the White Mesa Mill in Utah and to the Grand Junction Disposal Site in Colorado.

Newer technology would be installed at the disposal cell to continue groundwater treatment.

The second alternative calls for removing the geomembrane liner and replacing it with new material. This option would also require transporting the pond's contents to Utah and Colorado, but groundwater pumping would resume after the new liner is installed.

For the third option, no action would take place and the pond would continue operating as usual.

Comments reflect on uranium legacy

Delegate Eugenia Charles-Newton, who represents Shiprock Chapter on the Navajo Nation Council, was among the first to comment about the proposals.

With the legacy of uranium still affecting Shiprock, she called on the legacy management office to address the pond's lining sooner, rather than later.

"For me, personally, I like alternatives one and two because I think it's time that we saw this pond gone. I think there's still that concern that this pond could contaminate the soil. It could still contaminate the water," Charles-Newton said.

Gilbert Badoni lives in Gadii'ahi, but visits Shiprock daily. For him, removing the uranium tailings from the disposal cell is the best action.

"Why can't the source be removed? Rather than picking on it and hoping it goes away," Badoni said.

Additional comments expressed concern about the quality of the pond's current lining, calls for extending the comment period past October and increase dialogue between the community and the legacy management office.

When an attempt was made to conclude the comment portion of the meeting – due to the chapter house being reserved up to 8 p.m. – several audience members expressed disappointment because they were waiting to comment.

After receiving clearance from chapter house staff to remain in the facility past the reserved time, the comment process resumed.

Gloria Kinsel told the audience that she has lived near the former uranium milling site for her entire life.

Within those 63 years, she said she has seen family members and neighbors diagnosed with and die from cancer – which she attributes to uranium exposure.

"What concerns me now is my grandchildren. I have nine grandchildren. How many of them are going to suffer from cancer, from radiation, from chemotherapy? Like I went through," Kinsel said.

How to submit comments

The Office of Legacy Management will collect comments through Oct. 6.

To submit a comment by mail, send it to the Shiprock Evaporation Pond, c/o Navarro Research and Engineering, 2597 Legacy Way, Grand Junction, CO 81523.

Verbal comments can be submitted by voicemail at 970-248-6001.

Comments can also be emailed to ShiprockEvaporationPond@Im.doe.gov.

The office will have another meeting about the pond from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Sept. 21 at the Shiprock Chapter house.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 or by email at nsmith@daily-times.com.

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