he Millsite Riverside Trail located at the Moab Uranium Mill Tailings Remedial Action (UMTRA) project site moved one step closer to opening for public use this week. The Grand County Council voted Tuesday to approve two agreements with the U.S. Department of Energy concerning the trail.
“This is the first time that a remediation site actively in progress will be releasing part of the site for public use,” said Grand County liaison to the UMTRA project, Lee Shenton. “Because the entire site has not been fully remediated, the DOE requires a license agreement be signed by the county and DOE to allow the public use.”
The agreement was up for discussion at the council’s Aug. 7 meeting, but because of a lack of response from the parties involved, the issue was tabled until the Aug. 21 meeting. On Aug. 21, the council again had the opportunity to approve the agreements, but the decision was made to postpone the issue for further review.
“I don’t feel like the county is as well-protected as I would like to see,” said council member Audrey Graham at the Aug. 21 meeting. “I am in full favor of the trail, but it is our responsibility to make sure the county is protected in the long term.”
Shenton said two agreements were required to approve the trail use, as advised by attorneys for both the county and the DOE. A license agreement is meant to be more durable and have a lifetime of five years, whereas a memorandum of understanding is intended to be a living document that can evolve as both sides learn how to manage the trail, Shenton said.
Both agreements were created in collaboration with Moab Trail Mix, the organization dedicated to creating and maintaining the trail system in Grand County, and the Moab Trails Alliance. The agreements designate permission for public use of the trail and outline Grand County’s responsibilities for maintaining and repairing the trail as necessary. The DOE maintains the right to close the trail in the event of an incident or emergency at the UMTRA site or when there is water flow in the Moab Wash.
Although the process and agreements were approached in the appropriate manner, according to Shenton, concerns over Grand County’s liability in terms of exposure to the chemicals and radioactive material present at the UMTRA site were not acceptable to the council. Grand County Attorney Andrew Fitzgerald, in conjunction with council chairman, Gene Ciarus, required further review to ensure the county was protected for the future.
“We’ve been back and forth on this many times, but it has not been because of disagreement, only because this is setting a precedent,” Shenton said. “Gene [Ciarus] was concerned that the liability was too one-sided, and Grand County had too much and the DOE too little. He wanted it recognized in the license that the county was not liable for damages that might be involved with exposure.”
Shenton said the DOE had no questions regarding the council’s concerns and revised the agreements shortly after the Aug. 21 meeting.
According to Grand County Clerk Diana Carroll, the county’s insurance company also reviewed the documents and approved the agreement. She said the insurance company indicated that the county would have to be proven negligent in order to be held accountable for any incident on the trail.
“If you agree, it will be the end of this road,” Shenton said. “The project team will want to get the trail open as soon as possible.”
There is no set date yet for the trail opening, but council members said they are excited to see it happen. The Millsite Riverside Trail will be connected to the North Moab Canyon Recreation Trail along U.S. 191 by an underpass at the Courthouse Wash bridge.