Quay County Sun - Serving the High Plains

By Steve Hansen

Year in Review: Voices victorious against boreholes

The DOE abandoned drilling project after Nara Visa residents opposed it.


January 3, 2018

File photo

County Commissioners listen to a statement from a concerned resident in the 10th Judicial District Courtroom in Tucumcari during a discussion of proposed boreholes in the Nara Visa area.

Determined Nara Visa residents in 2017 successfully marshaled opposition to a proposed three-mile-deep borehole to test a way to dispose of highly radioactive nuclear waste until the project was abandoned in late May.

Their efforts, and parallel opposition efforts in three other locations nationwide proposed for test boreholes, persisted until the DOE's abandoned the idea. The boreholes were to be drilled to test the feasibility of the deep borehole concept as a possible final storage solution for high-level weapons and nuclear power fuel wastes.

The story began in 2016, when The U.S. Department of Energy selected Atlanta-based ENERCON and DOSECC Exploration Services of Salt Lake City to begin exploring the possibility of conducting a deep borehole field test at Nara Visa.

The Quay County Commission voted in October 2016 to support the borehole project. Enercon and DOSECC presented the project as a creator of jobs and lasting business, science and education opportunities after the borehole was completed.

Louis and Elaine James, on whose property the borehole test would have been conducted, fully supported the project, and maintained their support even after the project was abandoned.

Enercon set up meetings with Nara Visa residents to explain the project. Enercon's James Cameron told residents that public support of the project was crucial for successful consideration of Nara Visa as the actual drill site.

Even then, Quay County residents expressed concern about the potential for deposit of nuclear waste in the borehole.

Cameron said it was understandable and maintained, "public approval and community support are a top priority for this project."

A Santa Fe New Mexican story in early January cast doubt on the companies' claim that a borehole in Nara Visa would never hold nuclear waste.

After that article ran, county commissioners noted increased phone calls coming into the county, according to County Manager Richard Primrose.

Despite repeated statements from Enercon and the DOE that the borehole would never hold nuclear waste, opposition from Nara Visa residents mounted.

"There are increased concerns when the words 'nuclear waste' are brought up," Cameron said. "We want to ensure the residents of Nara Visa and Quay County there are no trucks full of nuclear waste heading their way."

On Feb. 7, more than 180 people attended a public meeting in Nara Visa, most expressing opposition to the borehole plan.

James Valentine, Nara Visa resident, told Enercon's Mark Eckles at that meeting, "Is there any way that you can fool yourselves that you have community buy-in from the residents?"."

Valentine was one of the several residents from the county that spoke out in opposition during that meeting.

On Feb.13, the issue came to a head. As it did for its Jan. 23 meeting, the Quay County Commission had to move its regular meeting to the Tenth Judicial District Courtroom to accommodate an overflow crowd of 150, who came to challenge the commission's decision to support the borehole project.

Logan Schools Superintendent Dennis Roch announced he was opposed to the borehole project, because he felt he should represent the views of the citizens of the district.

In the end, the commission reversed its decision to support the borehole project after Roch spoke and residents from all corners of the county made emotional appeals against the project, citing the effects of possible nuclear waste accidents on their children's future and the county's economy.

Despite continued assurances from Enercon representatives that no nuclear waste would be buried in the boreholes, residents said they had not received satisfactory responses to their concerns about the DOE possibly reneging on the pledge, and said Enercon had been dishonest about withdrawing the plan if it did not receive public support.

Opponents of the borehole plan did not let up in their protests after the county vote, however.

A crowd of more than 150 people attended a meeting on March 27 at the Tucumcari Convention Center that opponents from Nara Visa, Logan and other county areas, called to galvanize opposition to the borehole project.

"It is going to take all of us, the whole community, to make a difference," said Mike Trujillo, Tucumcari resident.

On April 25, Tucumcari City Commissioners unanimously added their voices to the anti-borehole protest, adding opposition to any other project that would result in nuclear waste being stored in Quay County.

At that meeting, Bart Wyatt, who with his wife Cydni had spearheaded the anti-borehole movement in the Nara Visa area, outlined why project opponents doubted the contractors' claims of no nuclear waste at the Nara Visa site.

He also cited the county commission's vote and Roch's opposition.

On May 8, borehole opponents packed into a county commission meeting to demand that the commission call a moratorium on all drilling in Quay County.

The commission decided instead to stick with its plan, proposed by County Attorney Warren Frost, which consisted of hiring a consultant to help the county oppose the project in National Environmental Protection Act proceedings.

On May 22, the commission decided to hire the consulting firm and to draft a letter to the DOE opposing the borehole project.

The commission appointed Frost and County Manager Richard Primrose to work with the consulting firm, EA Engineering, Science and Technology of Albuquerque, to make the case.

Eight days later, however, the DOE announced in a news release it was abandoning the borehole project.

The Trump administration sent Congress a federal spending plan that seeks $120 million to revive the mothballed Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository in the Nevada desert. The repository was closed in 2012 after heavy opposition by former Democratic Sen. Harry Reid.

But the plan's critics and supporters, at least in Quay County, all said the battle was far from over.

In December, the DOE had announced it was exploring potential sites for the 3-mile deep borehole test in South Dakota, Texas and Quay and Otero counties in New Mexico.

Louis and Elaine James, on whose property the borehole test would have been conducted, said they believe the issue will come back up.

Cydni Wyatt, one of the project's most outspoken critics, said her first response to the DOE's abandonment of the project was to be overjoyed, but added that area residents need to remain diligent in their opposition.


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