Despite having no authority to regulate the transportation of hazardous materials and scientific consensus that the public health risks are low, the Flagstaff City Council is moving forward with a resolution against the hauling of uranium through the city.
The action came in response to a citizen petition with close to 150 signatures that asked the council to consider a resolution opposing the transport of uranium ore from Canyon Mine south of Tusayan to White Mesa Mill near Blanding, Utah, and to explore the creation of an ordinance opposing the transport of uranium ore on Flagstaff roadways.
Canyon Mine owner Energy Fuels Resources has not yet begun to mine or haul uranium ore, but it was given approval by the Forest Service in 1986 to haul the ore to the processing mill via two route options, one of which would include Interstate 40 and U.S. Highway 89 through Flagstaff.
During a work session Oct. 10, the council heard nearly an hour and a half of public comment that expressed overwhelming opposition to the hauling of uranium ore through the city.
However, the Flagstaff City Council is preempted from regulating the transport of the uranium ore, even on city streets, Assistant to the City Manager Caleb Blaschke said at the meeting. It is the United States Department of Transportation that oversees and regulates all transportation of hazardous materials, Blaschke said.
Blaschke did say that other cities have been able to request that hazardous materials be hauled at certain times of the day, which could mean requiring materials to be transported at night. Two locations within the city of Phoenix have required the rerouting of hazmat trucks, but the new routes remain within a few miles of the preferred route, Blaschke said.
City Attorney Sterling Solomon said other municipalities have opted to pass resolutions against uranium hauling in the city, but the resolutions do not have legal authority to stop the hauling. Solomon said if the city were to try to pass a legally binding ordinance to stop the hauling, issues would arise with the federal government. Solomon said the implications of such an action would have to be discussed in a confidential session with the council instead of in front of the public.
Councilwoman Celia Barotz suggested the city add the issue to its list of legislative priorities, which would allow the city to ask its lobbyists to lobby for local control of uranium transport.
At meeting’s end, Barotz, along with Mayor Coral Evans, Vice Mayor Jamie Whelan and councilmembers Eva Putzova and Jim McCarthy requested city staff work to draft a resolution against hauling of uranium ore through the city. The majority of the council also asked the city attorney’s office to look into options that would be stronger than a resolution, such as a legally binding ordinance to consider at a later date.