Houston Chronicle

Recount affirms slim nod to fund nuke site

By BETSY BLANEY Associated Press Writer 2009 The Associated Press

May 14, 2009, 9:00PM

LUBBOCK, Texas A recount Thursday affirmed the narrow margin in an election last weekend that allows Andrews County officials to issue $75 million in bonds to help a company build a low-level radioactive waste disposal site in West Texas.

Saturday results showed the measure passed by three votes, 642-639. The recount, requested by opponents of the bonds, was done by hand and retained the same three-vote margin, Andrews City Manager Glen Hackler said.

The measure gives county officials the ability to issue the bonds used to purchase Dallas-based Waste Control Specialists' assets and lease those back to the company.

The company, which was issued a low-level radioactive waste disposal license in January by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, already stores the material at the site about 30 miles west of the city of Andrews and 370 miles west of Dallas.

The waste will come from Texas and Vermont and from sites run by the federal government.

Hackler said the small margin was not a reflection of diminished support of the company's operation.

"It was a referendum on whether or not public financing to support (the company's) endeavor was the right approach," he said. "It's an important distinction."

Waste Control has stored, treated and disposed of hazardous waste at the 1,400-acre Andrews site since 1997. The new disposal facility will be within the 1,400 acres.

Melodye Pryor, a longtime opponent of the company's operation in West Texas, requested the recount, Andrews County Judge Richard Dolgener said. She was required to collect 25 signatures to call for the recount, he said.

The company hopes to have the new disposal area of the site finished in time to apply for some of $6 billion in stimulus money tied to disposing waste from federal cleanup at sites around the country, company officials have said. Those funds need to be spent by 2011, meaning a delay could have caused the company to miss out on those opportunities.

The county and the state each get 5 percent of the disposal site's annual gross revenues, part of legislation passed in recent years.

Andrews County officials are currently working on a proposal with the company that they say will provide protection to taxpayers. The company is offering to annually place in escrow a year's worth of principal and interest about $6.6 million in the first year, and 100 percent of Waste Control's stock and $75 million of parent company Valhi Inc.'s stock as collateral.

Waste Control is paying the cost to set up the issuance, which is being handled by First Southwest Company.

The county also would hold title to Waste Control's property, and Valhi's parent company, Valhi Holdings Company, is providing a financial guarantee to the county.