A simple request for approval of a Disaster Mitigation Plan turned into a controversy at the July 23 meeting of the Blanding City Council.
Amy Peters, from the Southeast Utah Association of Local Governments, explained that having a Disaster Mitigation Plan is necessary to receive funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in case of a disaster.
The plan covers the mitigation of any natural hazards already in the area, including flooding, drought, fire, infestation, earthquakes, and hazardous materials that are transported.
Peters explained that the draft plan had already been approved by the State of Utah, and FEMA. It simply needed the signature from local communities and counties to be approved for five years.
However, as city officials looked through the document, they became concerned about a section that discussed hazardous materials.
The plan mentioned that “because the area is the sole source of drinking water to the community”, it opposed any additional radioactive waste from being stored at the White Mesa Mill.
Mayor Toni Turk said, “This is basically saying that we are lobbying against bringing any radioactive waste into the county.” He added, “Who put that in there?”
The document opposes the storage of additional waste, but it was pointed out that the White Mesa Mill is a production facility, not a storage facility.
“This looks like a battle over alternate feed at the mill,” said Turk. “A whole host of lobbyists are trying to shut down White Mesa Mill and this looks like a page from their play book.”
In recent years, the mill operated by processing materials brought in from other projects, rather than processing ore from area uranium deposits.
This use of “alternate feed” was controversial in some circles but was praised locally for keeping the mill operating.
The WhiteMesa mill is the only federally-licensed uranium mill in the country. It employees scores of area residents and supports uranium mining throughout the area.
Peters said that issues identified in the report are brought up by the local community, but the Blanding Council said it does not accurately reflect their feelings.
Someone suggested that since the document says that the mill site area is “the sole source of drinking water to the community”, it could only be from White Mesa or Bluff.
“I wouldn’t want the city’s actions in the approval process to be a hammer against the city in the future,” said Councilman Kelly Laws. “Someone with an agenda has put it in there.”
City planner Bret Hosler said he is on the committee and thought the section had been changed. Hosler expressed surprise that the comment was still included.
The Council said they would work with the AOG to resolve the issue as soon as possible.
In other matters at the July 23 Council meeting, Kay Shumway presented the city with a photograph of the fireworks display from the July 4 celebration.