Canyon Uranium Mine

The Canyon Uranium Mine near Tusayan.

The Flagstaff City Council officially opposed the transportation of uranium ore and other radioactive materials through the city and neighboring communities at its meeting Tuesday night.

The resolution, however, will have no ability to control the route trucks hauling the material will take. At a meeting last month, City Attorney Sterling Solomon and Assistant to the City Manager Caleb Blaschke said the city is preempted from regulating the transportation of uranium ore and all hazardous materials by the U.S. Department of Transportation.

The council voted 6-1 on a resolution stating the city’s opposition to the transportation of uranium ore and reaffirming Flagstaff as a “nuclear free zone.” Councilman Scott Overton was the lone “no” vote on the resolution.

At Tuesday’s meeting, 15 members of the public, including a representative from the Havasupai Tribal Council and state Representative Wenona Benally, spoke. All public speakers voiced their support for the resolution and some asked the council to take the move a step further and craft a legally binding ordinance to stop the transportation of uranium ore through Flagstaff.

Despite local scientists saying the public health risks associated with uranium ore hauling are insignificant, many of the speakers focused on the health hazards associated with uranium. The naturally occurring ore being hauled is less than 1 percent radioactive uranium oxide, and after decades of it being hauled across the Southwest, risk assessments by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the Department of Energy and others have found that any dust or spills do not constitute a high enough level of prolonged exposure to constitute a statistically significant risk of cancer or other illness to those along haul routes. As a result, the federal Department of Transportation has placed uranium ore in one of its lowest risk categories for hazardous materials.

At the October meeting, Solomon said the implications of passing a legally binding ordinance would have to be discussed in a confidential executive session, which is not open to the public and the councilmembers cannot comment about publicly.

The council also directed the city staff to lobby the federal government to change its policy preempting local control over the material’s transportation.

Members of the public, including many from a group called “Haul No,” filled the council chambers Tuesday evening and erupted into thunderous applause when the resolution passed.

Evans said other towns and cities in northern Arizona look to Flagstaff to set an example as the largest city in northern Arizona.

“I believe the legacy of uranium mining in northern Arizona is unjust,” she said.

The reporter can be reached at cvanek@azdailysun.com or 556-2249.

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Corina Vanek covers city government, city growth and development for the Arizona Daily Sun.

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