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Is land atop former uranium mines in Leeds fit for residential development? Opinions vary

June 19, 2023 by Nicole Mason

Leeds • Can land atop former uranium mines in Leeds’ historic Silver Reef area ever be given a clean enough bill of health to be fit for residential development?

Gary Crocker, the principal owner of Silver Reef Investment Holdings, insists it can. In fact, he’s banking on it. He has spent $15 million to advance his plan to build 100 homes on 148 acres, part of which would be situated on land that was part of the Big Hill and Chief Chloride uranium mines.

Thus far, he has spent roughly $1 million of that to clean up waste rock and radioactive contaminants on the site as part of a Voluntary Cleanup Project (VCP) agreement signed with the Utah Utah Division of Environmental Response and Remediation (DERR), which could pave the way for him to construct 22 homes for the first phase of Silver Pointe Estates.

Critics of the VCP process doubt that developers will do a thorough job of cleaning up contaminants, especially when it involves radioactivity. But Bill Rees, environmental program manager of DERR’s VCP & Brownsfields section, argues voluntary cleanups overseen by the state meet the same rigorous standards as those conducted by the federal government.

“It’s in the best interest that the program … saves tax dollars so that a party is voluntarily stepping up to clean up [the land] as compared to the government having to pay to clean it up and then trying to cost-recover on the back side,” Rees said.

Under the VCP, state environmental officials say they work in concert with developers or others enrolled in the program and ensure their efforts to remediate contaminated land are thorough and meet agreed-upon standards.

Rees said there have been 126 applications filed from people wanting to take part in the program since 1997 and estimates DERR is currently overseeing about 50-plus VCP projects.

Opponents of Crocker’s project, however, say they have examined 1,750 VCPs in states in the Intermountain Area and attest they have failed to find one that addressed uranium or radium 226 contamination, especially on land where residential homes are planned to go.

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