Habitat for Humanity wants to build manufacturing facility on old uranium-production site in Rifle
As Habitat for Humanity Roaring Fork Valley currently builds affordable housing units in south Rifle, it now wants to build toward the west.
But, instead of individual houses, it’s an entire manufacturing facility.
Local Habitat President Gail Schwartz, of Aspen, proposed to Rifle City Council last week an effort to build a facility for manufacturing modular homes. The facility, to be built near the city’s wastewater treatment center at U.S. Highway 6, would span 40,000-50,000 square feet.
She said Habitat would partner with the city and the Colorado River Board of Cooperative Education Services to operate the facility, with classrooms and trainers on site.
“We feel that this is a great opportunity to develop an advanced manufacturing workforce, with young people and students basically from the region that could find and work with the facility,” she said. “We visited sites, we’re in conversations, we feel this is a great opportunity for Habitat and BOCES to work together.”
The only little snag: The proposed site itself was formerly used to produce uranium and vanadium concentrates. At what was called the New Rifle Mill, Union Carbide Corporation produced 400 tons of uranium ore per day from 1958-1970, with further uranium development between 1971-1972. It also produced the vadium concentrate until 1984, city documents state.
The mill was eventually contaminated by radioactive tailings, while the groundwater — now being treated by the Department of Energy through natural flushing — had traces of arsenic, molybdenum, nitrate, selenium, uranium, and vanadium.
This ignited discussion over whether Habitat could safely build and operate the facility in this designated area. Mayor Ed Green said this a main reason why the site isn’t ideal for development, and that vanadate solution — a compound used for alloy steel — takes a long time to turn into hard rock.
“They’re trying to see that natural flushing solves the subsurface condition,” he said. “But, if it doesn’t, then they’re going to have to go down and reclaim some of that eventually.”
The state of Colorado owned the land itself until turning it over to Rifle in 2004. It was previously set aside for development of an energy innovation center, designated to study alternative energy. By 2008, the wastewater treatment center was built in the vicinity.
Mayor Pro Tem Brian Condie asked whether the land is compatible with Habitat’s proposal. He also asked whether the city should pre-emptively support the facility without advertising its availability first.
“We have several entities coming in for attainable housing, and this is an unsolicited proposal?” he said. “This land has not been made available to the public. Maybe somebody else wants to come in and use it for a higher and better use.
“I’m all for it, but I just want due process.”
The impetus behind wanting to build a regional manufacturing facility is because Habitat, trying to adequately fulfill the valley’s need to create more than 4,000 affordable housing units, has been busy.
Matt Shmigelsky, leading development and innovation director for Habitat, said they’ve just built 27 affordable units in Basalt, listed at $270,000-$370,000 apiece. It is currently working with Glenwood Springs to build 18 units and also currently building 20 affordable housing units in south Rifle, some listed as low as $185,000.
“Our pace of construction has increased the ability to construct faster and larger numbers of larger communities,” he said. “There’s a real need to match that pace with constructability and to be able to get those units built out.”
Rifle has, over the past two, years grown to be an attractive spot for affordable-housing developers. Chicago-based Evergreen Real Estate Group looks to build 60 units near Brenden Rifle 7 Theaters. Another company, EcoDwelling LLC, has already built a house manufacturing facility just east Rifle, and it also wants to build multiple subdivisions throughout town.
If Habitat gets its own home manufacturing facility, it can cut production costs, Schwartz said.
“Our friends at EcoDwelling really inspired us,” she said.
Rifle cannot legally sell the property. It can, however, lease the property to Habitat for $1 per year. The DOE has also prohibited digging more than three feet in the area unless a special permit is obtained, city documents state.
Habitat still needs to obtain a memorandum of understanding from Rifle before construction begins. It’s also asking Rifle to sign a letter of support to go after major grant funding.
Schwartz said, if the facility is built, Habitat can possibly produce up to 200 homes every year.
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