Group opposed to nuke license to rally

LUBBOCK, TX But, the 50-year-old Eunice, N.M., resident and flower shop owner said, it's not just her future that concerns her.

"If we bury this stuff we're all going to be in trouble," Gardner said Monday, a day before she and others rally in Austin against a license that would allow Dallas-based Waste Control Specialists to dispose of radioactive byproduct wastes. "We could all be victims of this contamination. I think it will happen."

Opponents want state regulators to grant a contested case hearing so they can challenge the license.

A three-member panel of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality on Wednesday has three options: reject the hearing request and grant the company its license, deny the license or send it to an administrative judge who will hear the case being made by the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club.

The environmental group, along with Gardner and her sister-in-law -- who lives in Texas about 3 miles from the site -- and some former agency employees will hold a rally Tuesday afternoon at the Sierra Club's offices in Austin.

Rod Baltzer, company president, said those seeking the hearing are from the same group who fought against the commission earlier granting a draft license to dispose of the waste.

"We've been very transparent," said Baltzer, whose company operates the 1,338-acre site in Andrews County, near the New Mexico state line. "The geology shows that it's dry out there."

Not so, said Patricia Bobeck, a former geologist with the commission who retired and left the agency because the company's "application was deficient" -- even after 18 revisions.

The site, about 30 miles from the town of Andrews, is not well suited geologically because of a nearby aquifer, she said.

"There is water there in that clay and water is going to move that waste around," Bobeck said. "It's going to cause problems and there's no way around that."

In 1997, the company's radioactive waste treatment and storage plant opened. There is also a hazardous waste landfill on the acreage.

Eunice, N.M., is the closest town to the site and there is a uranium enrichment plant being built nearby.

"The local community does not perceive any threat to our town or environment and welcome any additional jobs to the area" from Waste Control, Eunice Mayor Johnnie White wrote to the commissioners in a letter dated May 12.

Cyrus Reed, a spokesman for the Sierra Club, said he's more hopeful than when opponents sought a contested case hearing for the byproducts' storage license.

"I think our chances are better," he said. "We're not talking about a temporary storage site. They have to make the case that the studies that have been done show that there's no potential migration" of water for hundreds of years.

The commission's public watchdog arm, the Office of Public Interest Counsel, has recommended the commission grant a contested case hearing.

If commissioners grant Waste Control its license, the company still has about nine months of construction before it can begin burying the Cold War era radioactive material trucked to West Texas from a shuttered weapons processing plant in Ohio a couple of years ago, Andrea Morrow, an agency spokeswoman said.

Commission personnel would monitor the additional construction before the waste could be buried, she said.

Opponents could appeal commissioners' decision to grant the license.

Waste Control also is seeking a disposal license for low-level nuclear waste, which would dwarf the byproduct's radioactivity.

In March, the company agreed to pay the state $151,000 in penalties for self-reported violations in 2005 -- for radioactive materials, including Plutonium-239 and Americium-241, that got into an administration and laboratory septic system; and in 2006 -- for elevated amounts of metal contamination in the railcar unloading area.

Information on the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Web site shows that the chemicals in the 2005 incident involving the septic system, which is within a quarter-mile of a well used for drinking water, would not appear to pose significant public health risk.

Copyright © 2023 KTRK-TV. All Rights Reserved.