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Department of Energy hosts talks Wednesday on tailings

May 1, 2012 - By Martin Reed, Staff Writer

The U.S. Department of Energy is hosting an informational meeting in Riverton pertaining to ongoing work and concerns with the former uranium mill tailings site near St. Stephen's.

The meeting is Wednesday, May 2, at the Robert A. Peck Arts Center Theatre at Central Wyoming College.

It begins at 6 p.m. with a community open house, followed by presentations and panel discussions at 7 p.m.

The site in question is the former Susquehanna uranium processing mill that operated from 1958 to 1963.

Groundwater found in near-surface aquifers from the mill tailings site, which is just east of Goes In Lodge Road and north of Rendezvous Road, is contaminated with radioactive material.

The Department of Energy's Legacy Management division organized the meeting to discuss recent events and ongoing work at the site.

"The discussion will include an update on the current state of the ground water remediation strategy, the alternative water supply system for affected users and health concerns associated with the site," according to a meeting notice.

Mutual concerns

April Gil, the Riverton site manager for the federal government's management role in the project, said the meeting will help address the public's concerns as well as those of the agency.

"In June of 2010 you all had a historical flood up there," Gil said. "We were getting higher levels of contaminants out of our monitoring wells. So we wanted to come up and talk to people up there about what we were doing to address the increase in the contaminants and to explain the work that we're doing and also to hear from the public."

The U.S. Department of Energy and tribal entities have been monitoring numerous test wells, and in 1998 they adopted a plan that predicts contaminants will naturally dissipate over a 100-year period.

But flooding that hit the Little Wind River south of Riverton in June 2010 resulted in a significant spike of contaminants at certain well sites, according to a February 2011 report by the Department of Energy.

Health survey

The Rocky Mountain Tribal Epicenter has been urging residents to participate in the health survey available at the Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone health departments in response to concerns about contamination.

Officials are looking to gather health statistics from those residing in the area as well as from other communities several miles away.

"We don't believe there's any risk to humans from this site because the Department of Energy funded an alternate water supply system that has been in place for years that provides clean water to people that are living near the site," Gil said.

"And we also have what we call institutional controls, which are administrative actions that are imposed by government, so you can't drill up there, you can't dig a pond," she said. "The land use is strictly controlled so that people don't come into contact with the water that is contaminated.

"We understand that people are really concerned, and I want to address that," she added.

Important site

Also attending the meeting will be Dave Geiser, director of the Office of Legacy Management within the Department of Energy.

"I think it's indicative of the importance that the department puts on this Riverton site," Gil said about Geiser's appearance. "We've got approximately 900 sites around the U.S. that we're responsible for, and I think the fact that Mr. Geiser would take three days and fly up there indicates that we think it's very important."

The meeting will also include a panel consisting of Department of Energy officials, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Geological Survey, the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality and others.

The audience can ask questions of the panel members during the discussion that starts at 7 p.m.