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O’Halleran takes Tetra Tech issue to NRC

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U.S. Rep. Tom O’Halleran, D-Ariz., who recently learned the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency had contracted with embattled Tetra Tech for the assessment of 54 abandoned uranium mines on the Navajo Nation, has written a letter to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission raising questions about the $85 million contract.

The Pasadena-based company is facing 23 lawsuits, including at least one by the U.S. government, claiming its subsidiary, Tetra Tech EC, falsified soil samples at an old Navy shipyard it was remediating in 2013.

In a press release, O’Halleran said he is “deeply concerned” about the awarding of the Navajo contract to the company, and wants the NRC to explain why Tetra Tech’s radioactive material license is still in good standing, what corrective actions the company took and whether or not the NRC shared its review of Tetra Tech’s license with the EPA before it awarded the 2017 contract. United States v. Tetra Tech is still in the courts.

Most recently, in October, Tetra Tech asked the federal judge hearing the case to recuse himself and the judge refused, calling the company’s motion “bordering on frivolous.”

The company had claimed U.S. District Judge James Donato, in a decision on separate complaints filed by homeowners whose houses were built on the contaminated former shipyard, had used the words “as plaintiffs allege,” indicating Donato was summarizing the complaint rather than stating his own opinion.

Also, in a May 2018 sentencing hearing for one of the two Tetra Tech employees who had pleaded guilty to falsifying the samples, Donato had said he was “very skeptical this was something that (the defendant) came up with completely on his own,” which Tetra Tech’s attorneys said indicated Donato had already made up his mind about the case.

O’Halleran said in his press release there’s enough evidence of wrongdoing by Tetra Tech that the government should be very careful about awarding it such a large and sensitive contract — at the very least, the NRC should have scrutinized the company closely and passed on its findings to USEPA.

“The toxic effects of abandoned uranium mines, including higher rates of cancer and birth defects, continue to plague communities in my district, particularly on the Navajo Nation. This is an issue I take very seriously,” said O’Halleran. “I am deeply concerned about this contracted operation and the NRC’s potential knowledge of Tetra Tech’s reputation beforehand,” he said. “We must ensure that abandoned uranium mine sites are remediated properly.”

Neither Tetra Tech nor the Navajo Nation EPA returned calls for this story, but when the Times last reported on it on April 18, Michele Dineyazhe of NNEPA told the Times her office had expressed concern about the award. “But by the time (the U.S. EPA) vetted our concerns, they had already awarded the contract,” she added.

A USEPA spokeswoman had pointed out the agency had contracted with Tetra Tech, the parent company, rather than Tetra Tech EC, the accused subsidiary. At the time, Tetra Tech had issued a statement saying it stood by its work at the shipyard and would be vindicated in court.

About The Author

Cindy Yurth

Cindy Yurth is the Tséyi' Bureau reporter, covering the Central Agency of the Navajo Nation. Her other beats include agriculture and Arizona state politics. She holds a bachelor’s degree in technical journalism from Colorado State University with a cognate in geology. She has been in the news business since 1980 and with the Navajo Times since 2005, and is the author of “Exploring the Navajo Nation Chapter by Chapter.” She can be reached at cyurth@navajotimes.com.

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