Land returned to Ute Tribe
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NOVEMBER 1, 2000

On Monday, President Clinton signed into law a military appropriations bill that returns 84,000 acres of land to the Northern Ute Tribe of Utah.

The land is largest ever to be returned to a tribe in the lower 48 states in more than a century. Originally designated to belong to the tribe forever in 1882, a total of 89,000 acres of land was taken from them in 1916 for future use by the United States Navy.

The Navy intended to use oil shale deposits on the land to fuel its ships. But today, the area known as Oil Shale Reserve Number 2 remains largely undeveloped and the US no longer needs it.

The deal was originally announced in January by Bill Richardson, Secretary of the Department of Energy (DOE). It calls for 84,000 acres of land to be transferred to the tribe and the remaining 5,000 acres to be transferred from the DOE to the Department of Interior. The tribe has also agreed to the establishment of a 75-mile environmentally protected corridor of land along the Green River.

The return of the land doesn't come without a price tag, however. The tribe has agreed to help fund cleanup of 10.5 million tons of uranium waste from a mine in Moab.

The radioactive mine tailings sit on 110-foot mound on the banks of the Colorado River, a major water supply source to the Southwest and southern California. A report by the US Geological Survey showed levels of contamination lethal to fish and other species in the river.

The Atlas Corporation operated the mine for nearly three decades but recently filed for bankruptcy.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission will oversee cleanup of the site, which could cost up to $300 million. An estimated $80 to $100 million could come from the tribe, through a 9 percent royalty fee on oil, gas, or other minerals extracted from the land.

At about 4.5 million acres in northeastern Utah, the Uintah and Ouray Reservation is the second largest reservation in the country. It is home to the the Whiteriver, Uintah, and Uncompahgre Ute bands.

The land will be transferred to the tribe in fee simple and the tribe will retain criminal and civil jurisdiction. The tribe has agreed that the Endangered Species Act will apply to any endangered or threatened plants on the land. All horses found on the land will fall under the control of the tribe.

View a Map of the Land:
Naval Oil Shale Reserve No. 2 (Dept of Energy)

View a Photo of the Mine Area:
Atlas Mines Tailing Pile (Utah Dept of Environmental Quality)

Get the Bill:
National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2001 (H.R.4205. See Section 3405 - TRANSFER OF OIL SHALE RESERVE NUMBERED 2)

Relevant Links:
The Northern Ute Tribe -
The Department of Energy -
Decommissioning of Moab, Utah, Uranium Mill Tailings -
US Geological Survey -