Sierra Blanca nuclear dump site hits snag
Issue now goes to state commission
for final vote
By Ken Herman
Published: July 8, 1998
American-Statesman Capitol Bureau Chief
Published: July 8, 1998
State hearings examiners, concerned about economics and earthquakes, said Tuesday that a proposed low-level radioactive dump should not be built at the remote West Texas site favored by state officials.
The examiners recommended the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission reject the license needed to put the dump near Sierra Blanca, 90 miles southeast of El Paso.
"Politically and legally, it's a victory," said Bill Addington, a Sierra Blanca merchant-turned-activist who has spearheaded the battle against the proposed dump site.
The recommendation from hearings examiners Kerry Sullivan and Mike Rogan now goes to the three-member conservation commission. A date for a board vote has not been set. Geoff Connor, the agency's general counsel, said the panel approves examiners' recommendations "in a majority of cases," but reversal or modification is possible.
The proposed dump, under the aegis of the Texas Low-Level Radioactive Waste Disposal Authority, would accept waste generated by utility companies and medical facilities.
Congress is working toward approval of an agreement that would allow Maine and Vermont to ship waste to the West Texas site.
The examiners said a dump is needed, but Sierra Blanca is the wrong place.
The license should be denied, they said, because of questions about a fault under the site. The examiners said they didn't have enough information to determine whether the fault, which is inactive, is connected to a potentially more dangerous one nearby.
During hearings earlier this year, dump proponents noted that the fault at the site has not moved for more than 780,000 years, and the site could withstand a "reasonable worst-case earthquake and poses no threat to groundwater."
But opponents said the studies about the fault were inconclusive. The examiners sided with the opponents, saying there are questions about the fault.
The socioeconomic concerns raised in the report track issues raised by Sierra Blanca residents who claimed they were victims of environmental racism.
The examiners said the authority failed to address issues such as "economic growth that might be foregone, adverse impacts on tourism and social impacts such as those related to perceptions of unfairness in the siting process or perceived changes in the quality of life in the area."
The hearing examiners' recommendation came after three months of hearings earlier this year. The commission staff had recommended approval of the license.
"It came as quite a surprise," Ruben Alvarado, the disposal authority's chief engineer, said of the recommendation. "We felt that we clearly carried our burden of proof."
The state has spent millions of dollars testing and preparing the site.
The lingering battle over the site tapped into the gubernatorial race recently when Democratic challenger Garry Mauro went to Sierra Blanca to side with local residents who don't want it in their area.
"I am pleased that environmental racism was raised for the first time in the permitting process in Texas," Mauro said in welcoming Tuesday's recommendation.
He also called on Gov. George W. Bush to call on his three appointees on the commission to reject the license.
Bush said he was "troubled" by the report.
"I have said all along that if the site is not proven safe I will not support it," said Bush. "I urge the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission to thoroughly review this recommendation and the facts and to make their decision based on sound science and the health and safety of Texans."
This article includes material from The Associated Press.
Bill Addington, speaking of the nuclear waste dump proposed for Sierra Blanca "It used to be a hanging offense in Texas to poison a ...well, now the state issues permits and licenses to do just that."
Sierra Blanca is a repository for NYC sludge, and those people in West Texas have a lot of fight in them! According to Mike Quinn of New York's Department of Environmental Quality, on July 1 the products of New York's city sewers leaving the city's 14 wastewater treatment plants for Merco Joint Venture's West Texas acreage located 2 miles north and 5 miles west of the tiny, historic, unincorporated community of Sierra Blanca will double to 400 tons daily, and it is possible a second site will open 24 miles east of Sierra Blanca to spray more, under a contract between NEw York City and E.P.I.C. (Environmental Protection Investment Corporation or, legally, R.J. Longo Construction CO.) of NJ. However, a suit financed by nearby landowners is being prepared to contest the E.P.I.C. application to spread sludge near Allamore, twenty four miles east of Sierra Blanca but still in Hudspeth COunty, where several families live, including the extended family of MAria and Cruz Mendez in a century-old adobe they've occupied for nearly a half-century, with a new grandbaby and two elementary school children.
DISCUSSION WITH SENATOR LEAHY's STAFF
We are urged to contact VT legislators, especially Obie and Shumlin, to ask them to support a call for hearings on recent developments regarding the TX-ME-VT Compact. Sen. Ready has already been in contact with Leahy's office about the hearings. Senator Leahy is on the Compact conference committee, and pressure from Bush/Texas is strong to move the Compact vote quickly. Sen. Leahy helped turn the WORLD around on land-mines; he can surely delay the Compact if he is assured it is the will of the people of Vermont, and their legislators, to do so. We may be throwing money away [25 million], as well as becoming unwilling participants in a blatantly racist act of environmental injustice! Sen. Leahy will review the information, including anything new that SBLDF has, and he may determine by his own judgement that the deal stinks! He is encouraged by his ally, Sen. Wellstone, to do so. Sen Leahy is much closer to the issue than VT legislators who voted on it in 1984 (many of whom are no longer in the legislature), and we depend on him to be our eyes and ears in Washington, and to do the right thing. As Steve Crowley pointed out in our discussion yesterday, the waste dump is a land mine! Call VT legislators! Call Obie [463-3094; 387-5509] and Shumlin [387-4447]. Call with your opinion, and [non-residents] with any information you have. Pray, meditate, visualize justice and a safe environment.
Every day a few more petitions come in the mail from people who walked their neighborhood, or brought it to a social gathering. An 84 year old woman brought a petition to my house yesterday; her grandchildren had a birthday party for her, and they all signed her petition!
And speaking of those rad grandmothers, read on!
GRANDMOTHERS FOR PEACE INTERNATIONAL
DECLARES A NATIONAL BOYCOTT
OF ALL NESTLE PRODUCTS!!
...call Nestle's immediately to register a complaint and your intention to BOYCOTT ALL OF THEIR PRODUCTS until they cease production of the new "Nestle Nuclear Chocolate" candy bar!
CALL THIS NUMBER1-800-258-6728
(Nestle invites your comments by including this number on the wrapper... you will find a very polite person willing to take your complaint when you call!)
I called to explain that I hope they will take nuclear candy off the market so the boycott will end and I can eat Raisinettes again. The lines were jammed. I put the call on speakerphone, and worked while the message repeated and repeated that due to heavy use of the line, calls are in queue. The person I spoke with sounded weary but perked up when I told her how great their Raisinettes are.
Lea Terhune Vermont.firstname.lastname@example.org