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The Mountain-Prairie Region


U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
134 Union Boulevard
Lakewood, Colorado 80228

July 30, 1998
Reed Harris (801) 524-5001, ext 125
Susan Baker (303) 236-8155, ext 244

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Releases Final Biological Opinion on Atlas Mine

The U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service has provided the final biological opinion to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission on the proposal to cap a large uranium mill tailings pile owned by Atlas Corporation in Moab, Utah. In the biological opinion, the Service has determined that the action to cap the pile, as proposed, would jeopardize the continued existence of the Colorado squawfish, razorback sucker, the bonytail chub, and humpback chub endangered fish that inhabit this area of the Colorado River. However, the opinion includes a "reasonable and prudent alternative" that the Service believes will ensure needed protection for the fish while allowing the NRC and Atlas Corporation to proceed with the capping of the pile and cleanup of the site.

"This is an extremely complex issue, and the biological opinion is the result of long and arduous discussions between the Service, NRC, and Atlas," said Ralph Morgenweck, Regional Director for the Fish and Wildlife Service’s Mountain-Prairie Region. "But in the end, I believe we have properly addressed long-term protection of the endangered fish while not placing an undue burden on Atlas as it moves forward with cleanup of the site."

A reasonable and prudent alternative developed to avoid the likelihood of jeopardy to the endangered fish includes requirements for:

--A revised groundwater correction action plan to reduce leaching from the pile and other sources.

--Standards for ammonia, a constituent of primary concern currently leaching from the pile.

--Future access to the site in order to conduct additional bioassay studies to refine the ammonia standards. The Atlas Corporation is invited and encouraged to participate in these studies.

--Continued consultation with the Service as NRC develops alternate contaminant concentration limits which must protect human health as well as protect the listed fish.

--Provisions to mitigate for anticipated depletions to the Colorado River by a contribution to the program to recover listed Colorado River fishes.

The Service’s responsibility is to protect, now and long-term, listed fishes in the Colorado River near Moab, to protect designated critical habitat in the river and the 100-year floodplain, and to undertake appropriate actions to promote recovery of listed species. 

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