May 3, 2017 | The Tucumcari City Commission added its voice to the rising chorus of opposition to a proposed borehole field test project at their April 25 meeting.
In a unanimous vote, commissioners voted to oppose the borehole project and, whether or not the borehole project would bring nuclear waste to Quay County, any plan that would result in nuclear waste being stored in the county.
The U.S. Department of Energy has been looking at the Nara Visa area to test boreholes as potential storage for smaller forms of nuclear waste, promising local residents that no actual waste will enter Quay County — a claim residents have not believed.
District 5 Commissioner Todd Duplantis did not attend the April 25 meeting.
The vote followed a discussion among commissioners and about 40 project opponents who packed the commission’s chamber at Tucumcari City Hall.
Bart Wyatt, a rancher who lives in the Nara Visa area where the proposed project would take place, narrated a slide presentation in which he outlined the opposition’s doubts about contractors’ claims that the test borehole or other boreholes drilled in the same location will never host nuclear waste.
He cited the Quay County Commission’s recent rescinding of a decision to support the project, and Logan School Superintendent Dennis Roch’s statement of opposition. In addition, he said, opposition is rising in Union County, Harding County and Dalhart, Texas.
Nuclear waste contamination, he said, could spread through a 50-mile radius of a repository site in the “best case” scenario.
Earlier in the day, he said, he and other project opponents had talked to Tucumcari residents who live on Second and Third streets. Out of about 30 they talked with, only two failed to express opposition to the borehole project.
Robert Mills, another borehole opponent, said only two persons he contacted would not sign a petition opposing the borehole, because they felt powerless to influence any government decision.
Wyatt pointed out what he believed to be contradictory statements made by the contractors, who insisted last winter that test boreholes in the Nara Visa area will not contain nuclear waste.
Recently, however, he said, the contractors have not been able to say unequivocally that waste will never be buried in Nara Visa.
In addition, he said, even with local opposition, the DOE could employ eminent domain to use a Nara Visa site to store nuclear waste. The DOE is facing fines of $12 billion from states, because the department has missed deadlines for finding a permanent repository for nuclear waste, which, he said, means their urgency is growing.
District 1 Commissioner Ralph Moya said he had invited Mark Eckels, borehole project manager for Enercon Federal Services, Inc., to the April 25 meeting, but Eckels did not appear.
Moya also asked for a show of hands of audience members from Tucumcari who opposed the borehole project. About a dozen raised their hands.
Moya also said he would like to hear from more people with different viewpoints before making a decision.
When the commission voted to oppose the borehole project, Moya said he had to favor the side that spoke up to represent themselves.
District 4 Commissioner Robert Lumpkin, who proposed the resolution to oppose the borehole, said that the non-Tucumcari residents who attended the April 25 meeting “shop here (in Tucumcari), see movies here and attend church here.” He also said there is reason to doubt the claim that Nara Visa would never host a nuclear waste burial site.
District 2 Commissioner Amy Gutierrez said she voted to oppose the project because of the possibility nuclear waste could contaminate territory 50 miles from the site, and Tucumcari is about 40 miles from the site.
Mayor Ruth Ann Litchfield, who represents District 3, said she voted for the resolution, because “I know their (borehole opponents) concern for their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.”