MOAB — The leadership team behind the ongoing removal of 16 million tons of uranium tailings near the banks of the Colorado River was one of nine projects across the country recognized by the U.S. Department of Energy for their exceptional accomplishments.

The DOE Secretary's Achievement Award was given Thursday to Donald Metzler, Moab federal project director; Craig Niemeyer, deputy project manager for EnergySolutions; and Joe Ritchey, senior program manager with S&K Aerospace.

"The employees recognized today have gone above and beyond the call of duty, demonstrating an exceptional commitment to public service," said Secretary Steven Chu. "Their dedication, knowledge, and skills have served to strengthen our nation's economic and energy security and the work of the Energy Department."

Metzler is the DOE's on-site leader for the Moab Uranium Mill Tailings Remedial Action Project (UMTRA) and EnergySolutions and S&K Aerospace are the lead contractors.

So far, the project has resulted in the safe removal of 4.5 million tons of uranium mill tailings being excavated and then taken by rail cars to an engineered disposal site 30 miles north. The removal represents 28 percent of the 16 million tons that have threatened to contaminate the Colorado River.

Cleanup of the site was accelerated in April of 2009 with $108 million awarded in federal stimulus funding. The money allowed the project to ramp up to running 144 rail containers twice daily. When the money ran out in July, a couple hundred employees hired with the funds had to be laid off. The project, however, remains ahead of schedule and under budget.

— Amy Joi O'Donoghue