Thursday, May 22, 2008

Nuclear waste site to be near Texas-NM border

Nuclear waste site to be near Texas-NM border

By Enrique Rangel | A-J AUSTIN BUREAU

Thursday, May 22, 2008
Story last updated at 5/22/2008 - 2:08 am

AUSTIN - Starting next year, residents of Andrews County and southeastern New Mexico likely will live with nuclear waste buried in their large but sparsely populated area.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality agreed on Wednesday to let Dallas-based Waste Control Specialists dispose of radioactive waste in a dumping site 3.5 miles from the Texas-New Mexico border and 30 miles from the town of Andrews, the county seat.

"We're very pleased. We're very excited," Rod Baltzer, president of Waste Control Specialists told reporters after the commission voted 2-1 to authorize his company to dispose of the nuclear waste.

"It's been a long process. It's been open and transparent. We've been very up-front with the community, and we think the results show that today," Baltzer said.

The Sierra Club and residents of Eunice, N.M., which is five miles from the proposed dumping site, were disappointed with the commission's decision.

"We will look at appealing the decision, first with the commissioners, and if they deny it, then to a district court," said Sierra Club spokesman Cyrus Reed.

The law allows 30 days to file for an appeal, he said.

Reed also said Commissioners Buddy Garcia and Bryan Shaw, who voted in favor of Waste Control Specialists, should have voted to send the case to an administrative judge to hear the challenge presented by the environmental group.

That is what Commissioner Larry Soward had proposed.

"This is one of the few facilities nationwide, and it seems to me we need a process that truly allows to debate this issue and I don't think it should stop at the state line," said Soward. "We lose nothing in the scheme of things if we send this to a hearing."

Garcia and Shaw said the issue has been thoroughly reviewed and voted on in favor of Waste Control Specialists.

Andrews Mayor Bob Zap said after the hearing that he and other residents in the community of 9,652 were equally supportive of the company.

"Our town, from the very beginning, looked at this and asked questions. ... We studied it. We worked closely with them. We reviewed everything," Zap said. "We're really supportive of everything that's being done and supportive of the way WCS has handled it and will continue to handle it. We don't have any questions or doubts."

State Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, whose Senate District 31 includes Andrews County, was equally supportive.

"WCS has earned the support of Andrews County officials, city of Andrews officials and citizens from Andrews, Lea County, N.M., and surrounding communities, who are here today in support of WCS," Seliger wrote to the commission. "Their support was earned through good science, good geology and open communications."

Baltzar said the next step is to build large containers where the nuclear waste will be deposited, which should take about six months, then another six months to bury it. The whole process should be completed by October 2009.

"This is an incredibly safe process," he said. "The geology out in West Texas is dry (and) there is no aquifer underneath this facility."

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