Andrews County Votes for a Nuclear Waste Dump

by: txnewsboy

Sat May 09, 2009 at 00:17 PM CDT

Listen to the Texas Public Radio story:

Andrews County in far West Texas is deciding today if they should use county funds to pay for a local private nuclear waste dump.

At a recent community meeting in Andrews County, voters like Gerri Steward came to learn more about the upcoming bond election. Voters are being asked to approve a $75 million deal that would finance a low-level radioactive disposal site. Gerri says her "first impulse is to say no. They should get it from a bank or something else, but with our economy, I don't know if it's the right thing or not."

50-year resident Stew Collins says he's here to get some answers. He is undecided and will make up his mind after reading pamphlets provided by Waste Control Specialists (WCS). But like most people in Andrews, he skeptical of government promises. "Some of the stuff here said it won't cost the taxpayer a dime. I don't hardly believe that I ever saw anything that came here that didn't cost the taxpayer something," says Collins.

The bonds will be used to pay for the first low-level nuclear waste disposal site licensed in the U.S. in 30 years. WCS worked for 15 years to get to this point. They dealt with regulatory agencies and successfully lobbied for changes to the environmental laws to get the license that the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality granted it in January.

But according to WCS CEO Bill Lindquist, there is a new problem - a global recession. He says, "If we were at this point probably 12 to 18 months ago, we would have gotten the financing other ways. You read it in the newspapers and I've talked to a lot of banks, a lot of financial institutions the last three or four months and there's no credit out there."

Lindquist says the solution is to use the county's credit rating, so WCS can start in June with the digging of the giant hole in the ground west of town where low-level nuclear waste collected from Texas and Vermont will be buried.

Andrews County stands to make a lot of money off the nuclear waste business. It gets 5 percent of WCS's gross income. Former Congressman and co-owner of WCS, Kent Hance, says that about $15 million a year going will be going to the county by 2011. "We're asking the county to help us out with their credit rating and I don't see any risk to them and there's a lot of upsides. They are going to make some money off this," he says

But some members of the community are against the project. No one is more outspoken then sisters Peggy and Melodey Pryor who fear a nuclear waste leak. They say, "People need to speak up in this town, 400 people is not a majority of 10,000 people." They criticize WCS paying for the election and question the safety in regards to waste coming from Vermont as well as Texas.

Although their environmental concerns went unanswered, they were still adamant about getting their point across. "You don't think this looks inappropriate that you are paying for the election. If we aren't going to pay anything, why are we even having it," they say.

Andrews County resident Dorothy Wilson comments the declining growth of the small town. She has lived in Andrews County for 35 years and seen growth go up and down with oil. She does not know if she is voting for the bill or not. "And you're saying your going to bring us more prosperity, and that's what we want, prosperity," she says.

Election Day is May 9 and WCS officials say if the bonds are rejected at the polls, they will still build the disposal site, but it might take about two more years to round up the funding.