By BETSY BLANEY
Associated Press/Dallas Morning News
Residents worried about environmental damage from nuclear waste and those eager for a way to bring jobs to the region spoke Saturday to a commission considering a plan to bury nuclear material from 36 other states in West Texas.
Rose Gardner, who lives just over the state line in Eunice, N.M., told the commission she found the plan "very scary." Gardner lives about 5 miles from where material from nuclear power plants, hospitals, universities and research labs could be buried. She told the commission she worried about her water well and pointed to the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico as the kind of disaster that could happen.
"We all know it’s the human error" that can’t be predicted, said Gardner, 52. "I want you to remember, I’m just across the state line."
The plan calls for workers’ clothing, glass, metal and other materials used at nuclear facilities to be disposed of at a site 30 miles west of Andrews. Currently, facilities store the waste at their own sites.
Opponents say the huge dumping ground will pollute groundwater and harm the environment. Dallas-based Waste Control Specialists, the company that runs the site, contends it’ll be safe, and many local residents applaud expansion as a way to bring more jobs and prosperity to the West Texas scrubland.
One longtime Andrews resident said the city did an independent study on the site’s geology and found it adequate.
"We believe in the project, the company," said Russell Shannon, who’s lived in Andrews for 28 years. "Don’t let rumor and innuendo overshadow fact and evidence."
Another resident said talk of Waste Control Specialists duping uninformed county residents was wrong and people understood the issues.
"We’re not a bunch of cowboys out here," private engineer and Andrews resident Chad Tompkins said.
A small group of protesters carried signs before the meeting at the town’s high school. One read, "Think about our future."
Most of the about 150 people who attended the hearing were residents of oil-rich Andrews County and nearly all wore green T-shirts the town’s chamber of commerce provided that read, "We Support WCS".
Proponents in Andrews outnumber those against the low-level dump site, which has not yet been built. Approval of its design and precise location is pending from the state environmental regulators.
The Texas Low-Level Radioactive Waste Disposal Compact Commission, which includes six members from Texas and two from Vermont, had been scheduled to vote Saturday on a proposed rule that would have allowed 36 other states to bury low-level radioactive waste near Andrews. But two weeks ago, several commissioners, both from Vermont and Texas, expressed concern about hearing public comment and voting at the same meeting.
One said he was concerned a vote was being rushed.
"This is a big deal worthy of careful consideration," said Bob Gregory. "I wanted to make sure we had plenty of time to discuss."
A date for the commission’s next meeting has not been scheduled.
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