Millsite trail awaits DOE go-ahead

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The opening of the Millsite Riverside Trail has been put on hold by the Department of Energy (DOE) pending the completion of a security review.

All of the DOE’s active sites have been closed to the public after the security breach at the DOE’s Oak Ridge, Tennessee weapons facility by a protesting 82-year-old nun, named Megan Gillespie, on July 28.

The Millsite Riverside Trail will connect the bike path from the City of Moab to State Route 279, also known Potash Road, via an underpass beneath Hwy 191. The trail would cross the Moab Uranium Mill Tailings Remedial Action (UMRTA) site, which is managed by the DOE.

“Everything is ready to go, we are just waiting on the DOE,” said the director of Moab Trails Alliance, Kim Schappert.

The Millsite Riverside Trail was added to Grand County’s Non-Motorized Trail Master Plan in August of 2011 and stems from the Lions Park Travel Hub, just north of town. Construction of the Travel Hub will begin in the coming weeks.

The completion of the $6.4 million Travel Hub, approximately a year from now, will be a game changer for cyclists, said Schappert, and the Millsite Riverside Trail is a big part of that. It will allow cyclists coming either from town or from State Route 128 to reach Potash Road, by way of a 1.5-mile dirt path, without having to cross heavily trafficked Hwy 191.

The idea of opening the MRT came from Donald Metzler, the project director for UMTRA.

“He saw that there were things coming together that would make the trial possible and didn’t see why there shouldn’t be beneficial public use of the areas that had been cleaned up,” said Lee Shenton, the liaison between the county and UMTRA.

Since they were cleaning up the roads between the pile and the river anyway, Metzler proposed the idea of opening up a designating, linked group of work roads to the county. These roads formed a relatively flat path along UMTRA’s southern boundary, most of which runs next to the Colorado River. The county was enthusiastic and over several months the Millsite Riverside Trail project team at UMTRA and the county worked out the details.

When the idea for the Millsite Riverside Trail crystallized nearly two years ago, the county approached the Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) for funding to add the underpass. UDOT agreed on the condition that UMTRA guarantee the opening of the trail.

The underpass was built.

“All of the parties came through,” Shenton said.

The Millsite Riverside Trail is precedent setting in that it marks the first time that the DOE has opened part of an active site to public use before remediation is complete. Because of this all of the parties involved were careful to ensure trail users’ safety. UMTRA set up sensors to monitor radiation and chemicals along the length of the proposed trail. These sensors test for radon, a carcinogenic gas associated with uranium mining, uranium itself and for the radioactive particulates which uranium decays into: thorium, radium and polonium. The government’s public safety standard for these particulates is 100 millirems per year. 6.8 millirems per year is the highest any sensor along the trail has ever detected.

“If a station ever gets close to 10 millirems, UMTRA ups dust control,” Shenton said. Gamma radiation is also tested periodically to ensure that it never exceeds safe levels.

Another safety issue the council brought up is what happens when flash floods come through Moab Wash. UMTRA responded that in the case of a flood it would close down the trail until it can be cleaned and made safe again for the public.

The county also wanted to know what time each day the trail will open and close and how will UMTRA make sure people stay on the trail. The county and UMTRA decided that the trail will be open from sunrise to sunset and that there will be an informational kiosk and gate at each end of the trail, in addition to a fence separating the trail area from the rest of the tailing site. The trail will also be closed when UMTRA vehicles need to use it. No dogs will be allowed on the Millsite Riverside Trail.

The agreement in which the land is leased to the county by the DOE was drafted in coordination with Trail Mix and the Moab Trails Alliance. It states that though Grand County pays nothing for the lease, it is responsible for all maintenance of the Millsite Riverside Trail.

The Millsite Riverside Trail was proposed to the council on Nov. 16, 2010, and passed as part of the Non-Motorized Trail Master Plan on Aug. 16, 2011.

Later, the memorandum of understanding with the DOE, the final step in opening the trail, was delayed due to council chair Ciarus’s concern over the county’s future liability should someone claim to have become sick from biking on the Millsite Riverside Trail. A revision was made that Grand County was not responsible for radiation or chemical incidents on the trail, and the draft was passed on Sept. 4, 2012.

There has also been concern in the community about how the Millsite Riverside Trail received funding when UMTRA to temporarily curtails its workforce by around 87 workers this winter from lack of funding. These concerns, according to Shenton, while understandable, are unfounded.

“There is a public perception that the DOE built this trail for recreation,” Shenton said, “Actually 90 percent of the Millsite Riverside Trail already existed (as work roads).”

The only additional cost of completing the trail was to purchase and build the fence and the kiosks, and one small connecting road, totaling between $10,000-$15,000.

The county and the project team had hoped the Millsite Riverside Trail would already be open. It is unclear, however, when the DOE’s security review will be completed and the MRT opened to the public. It is possible it will take months.

When the MRT is opened to the public, Moab will be a safer place for cyclists, said Chris Baird, Grand County councilman.

“It’s dangerous for cyclist to cross 191 to get to Potash Rd., and this will fix that,” Baird said.

Schappert agreed.

“It’s not going to be just a way to get around, but a way to get around and have fun,” she said.

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