Project backing withdrawn
Commission rescinds resolution to allow boreholes near Nara Visa.
February 15, 2017 | View PDF
County officials and a local school superintendent withdrew their support of a deep borehole project near Nara Visa during Monday's county commission meeting.
"Certainly the commission had the authority to issue Resolution 27 as I did writing a letter of support for the project," said Logan schools Superintendent Dennis Roch, formally withdrawing his letter of support. "However, I have been wrestling with the responsibility of that decision ever since."
Roch said he takes his responsibility to the many stakeholders served by local public schools; therefore he must honor the input of those stakeholders.
Quay County Commissioners voted unanimously to rescind Resolution 27 that was first issued in October earmarking the commission's support of the Department of Energy project.
The Atlanta-based Enercon and DOSECC Exploration Services of Salt Lake City were selected by the DOE in December to begin exploring the possibility of conducting a deep borehole field test near Nara Visa in Quay County to see if the holes are plausible for storing nuclear waste.
"The commission felt that the resolution needed to be rescinded because the information provided about the residents' support was inaccurate and misrepresented," said Franklin McCasland, commission chair.
District 1 Commissioner Sue Dowell said she was concerned about the actions of Enercon representatives.
Dowell said when meeting with the Enercon representatives, they spoke extensively about the importance of community buy-in for the project, stating later that they had community support for the project and that a resolution from the commission would allow them to move forward with providing information and assessing community buy in for the project.
"I believe the voice of Nara Visa would be a most important factor in moving forward," Dowell said. "I believe the representatives were misleading, maybe even deceptive about the support and the way they would use Resolution 27."
She said commissioners voted to approve the resolution based on the information given to them by company representatives.
"Looking back I believe more careful scrutiny of the community support claimed by Enercon and the company's purpose for and planned use of the resolution should have taken place," Dowell said.
"I do not believe that the intent of the resolution was to override our citizens' opinions," she added. "The use of the resolution is certainly at odds with what Enercon representatives had offered the commission when (we) voted in favor of the resolution. It frankly appears to attempt to pit the citizens against this commission."
Dowell said she moved to rescind Resolution 27, because there were inconsistencies from Enercon representatives "that concern me very much."
"I personally don't believe that the commission signing Resolution 27 had any effect on Enercon being picked to go into phase one," said Mike Cherry, District 2 commissioner.
Cherry said from the very beginning, he understood that phase one of the project was public outreach and Otero County did not sign a resolution for the project, and they too were awarded a bid. He said the commission has been "beaten up" for the perception that the resolution was the reason for Enercon being picked.
"I supported the resolution, because I thought it would benefit the county for economic development, and I still do," Cherry said. "We have been told time and time again there would be no radioactive waste used in this project, but I will not go against the wishes of the residents of the county."
McCasland said Enercon President Peter Mast reported to the commission in an October meeting that the project was well received by the residents of Nara Visa and continued to provide fact-based information about the project to the board, and no residents were present to speak against the resolution.
"Even with the understanding that there had been meetings in Nara Visa, Commissioner Dowell is correct in saying the commission was premature on approving the resolution," McCasland said.
McCasland said the commission moved forward believing it was the best thing for economic development and growth for the county.
"When signed, it (the resolution) was just the commission's opinion that it was the right direction to take," McCasland said. "I made it clear that the board would not be in favor of ever using that site for nuclear waste."
"This board of commission operates the most transparent open government of any that I have ever been involved with," McCasland said. "Not a single one of us would ever deliberately do anything that would harm the residents or the communities we were elected to serve and represent."
McCasland said Quay County does not have a contract, memorandum of understanding or deal with the DOE or the exploration companies, but Quay County does not have jurisdiction over private land owners with respect to entering into private contracts with anyone.
The residents in opposition to the project or those in favor need to understand that their battle was never with Quay County government, McCasland added.
"I believe not only do we need the backing of the county commission but the backing of the community to move forward with this project," said Marc Eckles, project manager with DOSECC. "My job for the next four months will be to get that backing by providing information to the community and bringing people from the DOE to speak to residents."
Eckles said if there is an MOU, it will be between the state and county on one hand and the DOE on the other.
Eckles said phase one of this project is public outreach and a lot of public opinion is being based on inaccurate information. He said the project, in nature, is a science project strictly for research.
"There are statutes and state laws in place that prevent the disposal of nuclear waste in boreholes," Eckles said. "The governor would have to sign a bill that is passed by both the House and Senate for disposal to be made possible in this fashion."
Eckles said as part of the outreach portion of this project, he will continue to try and meet with the residents to present the facts.
"I hope that we can work with the residents in a positive manner towards the advancement of this project," he said.