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Rep. Karen Shepherd on Monday joined a growing chorus of voices calling for the removal of the millions of tons of hazardous ore tailings at the former U.S. Smelting, Refining and Mining Co. site.

Shepherd, during a morning press conference within view of piles of the waste, rejected out-of-hand the EPA's insistence that the tailings be left in place and covered with a clay cap."Capping only seals over the problem," she said. "We need to eliminate it."

The freshman congresswoman said she has told high-level Environmental Protection Agency officials in Washington that the tailings must be moved and said Monday that long-term costs will be astronomical unless the materials are relocated.

Shepherd also raised the specter of water contamination should the waste be left where it is, noting that the heavy-metal contamination of a Murray city well could be linked to the tailings.

Mayor Everett Dahl applauded Shepherd's pronouncement that the tailings pose a valleywide hazard.

"We've been in the forefront so long everybody thinks it's just a Midvale problem," said Dahl. "But the aquifer underneath there furnishes part of the drinking water for 400,000 or 450,000 people . . . if it gets down in the drinking water that'll make capping the tailings a comparatively minor problem."

The tailings, legacy of Midvale's history as a now-defunct ore-processing center, are on the EPA's Superfund cleanup list. The EPA favors a $50 million capping option for economic reasons, but the state Department of Environmental Quality earlier this year said they could be moved to a remote site for about the same amount of money.

Dahl noted that the Salt Lake County Council of Governments earlier this month passed a resolution calling for removal of the tailings and that the state Legislature as well as Gov. Mike Leavitt have concurred.

"Instead of look at what's cheap in the short-term, you have to look at the long-term costs of leaving it there," said Shepherd assistant Beverly J. Miller. "If they cap it, 30 years, 40 years down the road it becomes our problem, not the federal government's problem."

Shepherd's district includes centrally located Midvale and every neighboring municipality except for West Valley City.

The EPA, which has final say on how to handle the problem, has until Oct. 15 to make a decision.