Jim Davis, who typically wants Uncle Sam off his back and out of his neighborhood, is ready to call in the Feds - to fight the Feds.
The South Salt Lake mayor wants Utah congressmen to help move a mountain - the U.S. Department of Energy - so he can expand a city. His city.Davis has grown impatient with the DOE, which he says has delayed development at the old Vitro uranium mill site in South Salt Lake for years. The hold-up, he said, is costly to taxpayers who spent millions to remove radioactive uranium mill tailings several years ago and are still paying Tooele County a substantial disposal fee.
Meanwhile, the undeveloped land isn't fattening Salt Lake County's tax coffers because efforts to obtain financing for development on the Vitro site have thus far been unsuccessful.
Banks, Davis said, simply are reluctant to lend money for development of property which has been cleaned up but may still have ground water contamination.
"While the surface of the Vitro site has been cleaned up or remediated since 1987, DOE has been unable to issue certification and release of the Vitro site," Davis wrote in an April 11 letter to Mark Matthews, DOE project manager in Albuquerque. "Part of this delay is due to regulations proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency which set standards for remedial actions at inactive uranium processing sites."
According to Davis, the DOE is required by these regulations to determine the level of groundwater contamination at Vitro. But while the regulations were proposed in 1987, DOE only started receiving funding this year at a level of $1 million - an amount that doesn't allow the agency to proceed in the evaluation and cleanup of the potentially contaminated groundwater.
There's a ray of hope.
Davis said he's been told by one DOE official that potential groundwater contamination at the Vitro site should not deter a bank from providing financing for any development on the site.
He wants the DOE to put that in writing.
He also hopes that that Rep. Wayne Owens, D-Utah, and Sen. Jake Garn, R-Utah, will nudge Congress to persuade the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to act quickly and conduct a study of the property - or accept liability.
"When government actions keep property from being developed, that is, in a sense, government condemning the property without just compensation," Davis said.
Agreeing with Davis, the Central Valley Water Reclamation Facility Board and the South Salt Lake City Council passed a resolution proposing several measures to return the blighted land to productive use. (See box).
The resolution was passed on to Garn and Owens this week.
The Central Valley Water Reclamation Facility Board and the South Salt Lake City Council recommend the following steps to clean up the Vitro site:
- Congress shall require the Department of Energy to work with local agencies in conducting a groundwater and soil contamination study to determine whether there is a health and safety threat.
- DOE shall provide payment to Tooele County for the deposit of mill tailings until the land is returned to productive use.
- If the groundwater at Vitro is contaminated, DOE shall immediately prepare an action plan with local agencies and implement an effective remedy to restore full productive use.
- If the groundwater, as well as the soil, is contaminated, DOE - in cooperation with local agencies - shall devise and implement a plan to restore the land to full productive use.
- If restoring the land to unrestricted use is not possible within a reasonable period, DOE shall fully compensate local agencies for the land's value as if it were unrestricted.
- In the event the site is not contaminated, DOE shall indemnify any owner or lender (current and future) against liability with respect to the mill tailings contamination whether in the soil or groundwater.