Concert at Former Uranium Mill Site

Saturday night we enjoyed the Grand Junction Symphony Orchestra playing with Imagine Beatles tribute band in a concert at Las Colonias Park Amphitheater. This fun event involving 1000’s of people would not have been possible without the 30 year revitalization of the area! This site serves as a worldwide testament to many local people who cared enough and persevered through incredible obstacles to turn a horribly polluted site into a wonderful multi-use business park.

There is one person in particular who I believes deserves special recognition for this achievement and I thought of him, at least during the concert, as the Fifth Beatle! First, let me set the context with some interesting site history involving many cultures and generations. City of Grand Junction employees took great care to preserve the history of the site by including signs at the park in collaboration with Colorado Mesa University (CMU). According to the CMU history project,

“Above all, the story of Las Colonias Park is the story of different people coming together to form communities. From the Spanish and Ute traders to the Hispanic migrants who built lives and homes on its banks to the more recent community-wide efforts to restore and preserve the riverfront, this stretch of land has been a convergence point for people and culture. After nearly 30 years of work, the land is poised to enter into a new era as a developed city park, but it is important that its history not be forgotten in the transition. The history of the Old Spanish Trail, the sugar beet industry, the uranium years, and the remediation and restoration of the land are all vital to the story of Grand Junction: these themes demonstrate both the various cultures and the economic changes that have shaped the Grand Valley.”

In 1950, the Climax uranium mill began operating to produce yellowcake uranium but with the byproduct of over two million tons of waste tailings. This process is described on my recent blog mitigating nuclear hazards for production. The uranium mill operated for about 20 years and then became an auto junk yard.

The State of Colorado began in the early 1970’s to deal with radioactive mill tailings that became used in concrete construction as the mill had offered “free sand.” In 1978, Congress passed the Uranium Mill Tailings Radiation Control Act (UMTRCA) and the program identified over 4000 vicinity properties around the Grand Junction area that needed to be cleaned up. Department of Energy built a new disposal site to remove the tailings away from the Colorado River. However, DOE could not remove the junk autos but instead provided funding to the State and City for removing non-radiological waste. More on the revitalization efforts are available on the DOE-LM, State CDPHE, and City websites.

After site remediation in 1994, the land was vacant for 20 years until the City obtained many sources of funding support to enable redevelopment. They are building the park in phases — I’m most proud of contributing to the City Park Phase 2 Amphitheater by providing permit reviews and a federal grant to support redevelopment of the former mill processing site as well as interpretive historical signs.

Now for my view of the most important person in this redevelopment process! Mr. Bennett Boeschenstein served Grand Junction as the Mesa County Planning Director and held various positions over his 40 year career including City Council and most recently as acting Mayor before his recent retirement.