After eight long years, the long-awaited environmental cleanup of the old smelter site in downtown Murray should get under way this week.

Earth-moving equipment is expected to roll into town within the next few days as a private contractor hired by the American Smelter and Refining Co. (ASARCO) begins to mobilize for the cleanup and to erect fencing around the site.The cleanup will take about a year and is intended clear the way for redevelopment of the 141-acre site as a billion dollar-plus project tentatively named Chimney Ridge.

Present plans call for a major Intermountain Health Care medical facility that will replace Cottonwood Hospital, a Utah Transit Authority light-rail station, a 60-acre business and retail center, upscale restaurants and a 25-screen movie complex.

In an unusual arrangement worked out with the Environmental Protection Agency, the city will serve as the lead agency for the cleanup with ASARCO assuming responsibility for the removal of lead, arsenic and other contaminants from the old smelter site.

City Attorney Frank Nakamura said Monday the work is expected to proceed despite a written exception to the EPA consent decree by one of the site's tenants, the Ash Grove Cement company.

The consent decree, a 106-page document that outlines the terms of the cleanup, establishes an overlay zone where certain land uses such as single-family dwellings are prohibited on the smelter site.

Ash Grove signed the initial federal decree but later decided to challenge it during the legally required 30-day public comment period because the company wants full assurances it will have an adequate driveway into its plant.

City officials were concerned the adverse comment, which threatens to delay finalization of the EPA's consent decree, also might postpone the cleanup.

"But the latest information I have is that nothing is changing," said Doug Hill, the city public services director who is overseeing Murray's end of the project.

"We're told we should start seeing fencing, air monitoring equipment and heavy equipment this week," he noted. "And I think we'll see a substantial amount of work done in August. They're really going to hit it hard."

Hill said the problem is that Ash Grove Cement is located on a triangular piece of land bordered by UTA property on the north, railroad tracks on the west and a new road on the east.

Since the road is planned to be the approach for a new overpass that will carry 300 West over 5300 South, Ash Grove fears the elevated grade of the new road will block access to the cement company from the east side.

But Nakamura said he has contacted Ash Grove and believes the city can find a solution that will be agreeable to all parties.

The city will explore one option - giving Ash Grove driveway access from the north - when it meets with UTA officials Tuesday to discuss the light-rail site.

If that doesn't work out, Nakamura said, the city may tinker with the proposed road to provide the cement company better access from the east.

Meantime, ASARCO officials have advised the city that the company's designated contractor will start excavating contaminated soil as soon as the heavy equipment arrives on-site.

"To ASARCO's credit, they're going to proceed" to avoid delays on the project, Nakamura added. "That's a good indication of their commitment" to cleaning up the abandoned smelter site.

Most of the contaminated soil will be buried and covered over by the asphalt roads planned for the project, Hill said.

While the city has received preliminary authorization for $12.5 million in federal dollars to build the 5300 South overpass, Murray officials will have to come up with a 20 percent local match - about $2.5 million - before construction of the span can begin.

No design on the road has been done yet, Hill said, and no construction money has been set aside by city officials at this point.

That means the road portion of the project likely will be deferred until the city's fiscal 2000 budget cycle begins next spring.