Ruminations on a Billion Dollar “Pile”

by Buckley Jensen

As a small child, I loved nothing more that digging in the dirt with my toy tractors and trucks. As an adult, I still like big piles of dirt, as in dams, highway construction and so on. So, as you might imagine, I was utterly and completely fascinated with my trip last Wednesday to the biggest, baddest pile of man-made dirt I have ever seen.

Everyone at the Moab and Crescent Junction uranium mediation sites was professional. Everyone tried to be helpful. Everyone I talked to is grateful that all this money is being spent in our little corner of the world and that good jobs are available in these trying economic times. I too think it is a good idea to get that nasty mess out of harms way.

But, honestly, I came away with some major ambivalence. I loved the size and scope of it all. On the other hand, there are unfathomable costs. Frankly, it seemed like some of what is going on is overkill. Recognizing and readily admitting that I am simply an interested tax-paying bystander, I am going to tell you what my gut feelings are anyway.

First, at both Moab and Crescent Junction you have office complexes consisting of several different structures. There is the general administration building, the Energy Solutions (General Contractor) building, the DOE (Dept of Energy) building. And there are other buildings to house sub contractors and related activities. It appears to me that more people work inside than outside. Most of the office personnel who work at the complex in Crescent Junction live in Moab and have to drive up and back every day.

Wouldn’t a single office complex in Moab make more sense and save a bundle?

Second: The number of times that dirt is handled is questionable. Read my news article in this issue and count the number of times the same dirt is loaded, unloaded, pushed around, mulched again and again, stacked up, loaded again, moved to the repository, unloaded, pushed around again not more than a foot deep and then compacted by a $200 an hour Caterpiller. Is there so little space in the desert at Crescent Junction that the compaction requires handling the dirt so many times? Would a few years and gravity do the same job for free?

Third: It seems to me that there are two people for every job (with the exception of machine operators). For example, when you come to an intersection there are two people holding stop signs on each side of the road. Everywhere there are Energy Solutions people working, there is a DOE inspector or two observing. Is dumping dirt so complicated that it takes highly paid inspectors at every turn?

Fourth: The number of levels of management is daunting. When I was trying to get permission to go on top of the pile, the guard at the entry gate called four different people and finally gave up and sent me to the Administration Office. There, two nice secretaries tried to call several different levels of management and were unsuccessful at rousting anyone. Finally, they decided to turn me over to the lady who handles all the public relations and press requests and she too was unavailable. I shot the pictures of the pile with a telephoto lens from the side of the potash road where anyone can go at any time. If I had just done that in the first place, I would have saved about an hour of time.

Fifth: Why do they need to use water to spray out empty containers? How much dust is going to blow out of a sealed steel container on the trip back to Moab empty? How much did that 27-mile pipeline from the Green River cost? How much will they spend on water over the life of the project? None of the men on these job sites wear protective gear because the level of contamination is so low. Why then would a little dust or residue inside a container matter?

For years we have heard the figure for moving the pile was about $500 million. Now, it is double that. Does that bother anyone but me?

What might have happened if the government had made a contest out of this job and offered a $50 million first prize to any corporation, university or private think tank which could design the best and most economical way to do this job? Then offer the winning bidder another $50 million bonus if the job came in under deadline and under budget. I humbly submit a conveyor belt could have done the job for half what this method is costing.

Had some of America’s best and brightest tackled this task, I believe it could have been done for the original $500 million price tag or maybe even less. But then, what is another half billion to a government that spends trillions so fast that those who voted on the bill freely admit they didn’t have time to read it.

The hate mail will probably fly on this one! The resident experts will say, “and who do you think you are to question us?” Well, these are simply my observations folks! Calm down. I am harmless. Go see for yourself.

And you know what?…I’ll bet if the government took some of the trillions they are spending to stimulate the economy and offered a hundred million for the first outfit that built a car that got a 100 miles per gallon… or better yet…a billion dollar prize for the first mass-produced hydrogen car, it would happen. American ingenuity trumps politicians and bureaucrats every time. Let’s see, a hydrogen economy would solve the energy crisis, the global warming bru ha ha, and most of what else ails us.

Just a thought!

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