November 30, 1999
Kevin D. Thornton
Office of Economic Development
U.S. Department of Energy
Nevada Operations Office
P.O. Box 98518
Las Vegas, Nevada 89193-8518
Comments - U.S. Department of Energy Draft EA: The Nevada Test Site Development Corporation's Desert Rock Sky Park at the Nevada Test Site
Dear Mr. Thornton:
The Nevada Agency for Nuclear Projects has conducted a review of the Desert Rock Sky Park (DRSP) Draft Environmental Assessment (EA) on behalf of the State of Nevada. As the Executive Director of the Agency, I am providing these comments to you and thank you for the opportunity to do so.
Summary: While the State supports the efficacy of creating alternative uses for the Nevada Test Site and the usefulness of the NTSDC's role as DOE's Community Re-Use Organization (CRO), we are concerned about issues regarding Nevada Test Site (NTS) and Yucca Mountain activities that may result in associated effects and impacts to the Desert Rock Sky Park.
While the referenced EA is generally comprehensive, there are certain issues that require further clarification. Examples include the discussion regarding the types of industrial activities that might be sited at the proposed industrial park. The potential for unforeseen resource effects on existing defense mission and/or environmental restoration activities, and potential land-use conflicts (i.e., legal constraints) that fall outside DOE's control should also be addressed.
Page 6, Section 2.2, paragraph #2 - The EA states that proposed businesses include, among other things, "manufacturing of low-level sources for medical and other purposes, radiological and other environmental characterization….etc." The description of potential commercial activities suggests that most of these facilities might be categorized as noxious and/or environmentally risky. Very little information is presented in the EA about specific types of industries to be located at the Park. Please provide further, detailed, information re: what businesses are currently being considered for location at the DRSP. The State would want the opportunity to participate in the selection process related to siting of businesses at DRSP.
Page 6, Section 2.2, paragraph #2 - The EA states that "minimal additional infrastructure support would be required to support the initial businesses (electrical/water, etc); construction of support facilities (fencing, Butler-type buildings, and similar features)." Further down page 6 (the last sentence of Section 2.2., paragraph #3) the EA states that "siting of such businesses would likely require additional infrastructure support, including power and water."
Please clarify which proposed businesses might require "minimal additional infrastructure support" and which might require "additional infrastructure support." State officials are concerned about potential resource impacts on NTS mission activities, including unknown effects on long-term environmental restoration and monitoring programs.
Specifically, there are significant uncertainties existing about subsurface radiological contamination in conjunction with groundwater flow in Frenchman Flat. Setting aside historical peak water use rates, the proposed industrial park would, in part, use water pumped from beneath Frenchman Flat. Given this situation, if monitoring activities demonstrate an association between movement of groundwater contamination beneath Frenchman Flat and the border of NTS, State regulatory agencies could impose certain groundwater containment strategies that might alter water use in the region. The Final EA should acknowledge this uncertainty.
Although the EA states on Page 50, lines 21-22, that "the impacts of water withdrawals from the supply wells in Frenchman Flat and Mercury Valley were evaluated in the NTS EIS (DOE, 1996)," it appears that the DRSP sits downgradient of existing groundwater contaminant areas on the NTS. Which groundwater modeling procedures were utilized in assessing DRSP water needs? Was the regional groundwater model used in calculating DRSP drawdown estimates? Finally - what is the contaminant status of the existing military well at the lower SW corner of the DRSP? The EA should clearly address these questions and issues.
Page 50, Lines 11 - 19, indicates that "the total demand for water for the DRSP is estimated to be about 500 acre feet per year, but may vary." The document further states that this amount is well within existing NTS use parameters. The EA conclusion is that, even though the DRSP would precipitate a "corresponding increase in the overall water use at the NTS," no significant impacts would result, based on an analysis of "previous groundwater withdrawals at the NTS, even at peak historic rates." The EA should address the relationship between existing and projected NTS water withdrawal rates, the 430 acre feet per year currently being requested for construction of Yucca Mountain, the ever-expanding water needs of Nye County and Amargosa Valley, and the DRSP 500 acre feet estimate.
In addition, there is an existing question pertinent to this matter resulting from the Nevada Attorney General's litigation of the land status at NTS. The settlement agreement that emanated from that lawsuit required DOE to engage in a dialog with the Department of Interior (DOI) to determine whether DOE can retain exclusive jurisdiction and control over the land at NTS, including rights to ground water. To our knowledge, the State has not been informed as to the outcome of that dialogue, which could have a substantial impacts on water use for the proposed DRSP as well as for the NTS as a whole. The final EA should provide information about this process and the outcome of the dialogue between DOE and DOI.
Page 9, Section 2.4, Bullet #3 - The EA indicates that the alternative of permitting individual facilities at various NTS locations on a case-by-case situation was eliminated, partly because of possible "siting delays to the businesses that DOE is mandated to assist." The EA should present a siting schedule for potential DRSP businesses and explain how DOE is "mandated" to assist these businesses.
Page 10, Section 2.5.1 - The "Comparison of Environmental Impacts of the Proposed Action and No Action Alternatives" graph on page 11, shows zero adverse impacts and/or several possible beneficial impacts in all categories other than biological and cultural resources. Biological impacts are noted on the chart and in Section 2.5.1 as being mitigated via surveys and "payment of mitigation fees." Does this mean the mitigation of biological impacts will be financed using such "fees" or that the fees will substitute for mitigation? Page 52 indicates surveys will be completed before "soil-disturbing activities." Will the pre-activity surveys, and pedestrian surveys be completed before or after issuance of the final EA or Record of Decision (ROD)?
Page 52, Section 4.2.10 indicates that, although surveys would be conducted and tortoises removed prior to soil-disturbing activities on the DRSP, "the project would result in the loss of 200 acres of tortoise habitat." Page 62, Section 6.2, notes two generic proposed mitigation measures for biological resources. 1) comply with NTS Programmatic Biological Opinion for desert tortoise protection; and 2) conduct biological surveys and develop recommendations to minimize adverse effects. The EA should indicate timeframes for the surveys and who would be involved in the survey work and should summarize requirements of the NTS Programmatic Biological Opinion as it relates to the DRSP.
Page 12, Section 3.0, Paragraph #1 - The EA notes that the DRSP would be located "primarily" within the boundaries of Area 22. The Location Map (Figure 3-1) on Page 13 shows the NE portion of the "previously proposed Solar Energy Project Area" and the North tip of the proposed Industrial/Scientific area as being in Area 23. Do these areas comprise the total area of the DRSP that would be located outside Area 22? What, if any, differences will exist in relation to infrastructure and improvement needs between areas 22 and 23?
Page 12, Section 3.1.1/NTS Land Use - The EA is silent about how land-use decisions at NTS (i.e., siting of a commercial industrial park) might conflict with the statutory authorities of other federal entities. During the scoping process, State officials suggested that DOE should address the status of the NTS land withdrawal per the requirements of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 (FLPMA). FLPMA is the guiding legislation for the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The law requires a review of administrative land withdrawals made before 1976 (Section 204(1)). The review is intended to determine if existing withdrawals were consistent with the statutory objectives of the programs for which the lands were withdrawn.
Since the description of land-use activities specified in the original public lands orders for the NTS are generally limited to defense-related activities, it appears that a land-use decision by DOE that approves non-defense commercial industrial activities on the NTS would be inconsistent with the requirements of FLPMA (i.e., despite the 9/96 ROD for the NTS Environmental Impact Statement - section titled "Non-defense Research and Development Program.")
The EA should include an analysis of relevant statutory authorities as they pertain to potential land-use conflicts; we would argue that inclusion of this information is necessary to support an informed decision making process.
Page 19, Section 3.2, Lines 15 through 32 - The EA notes that the Desert Rock Airpark (DRA) is available for use by "federal organizations, national laboratories, and companies having contracts with the federal government or DOE contractors." Does this mean that all potential DRSP businesses will fit into one of these categories or that none (or few) of the DRSP businesses will have access to the DRA?
The EA correctly states that the DRA "must maintain the capability of landing aircraft with damaged weapons, including nuclear warheads." Activities at DRA are cited as being currently "sporadic with surge periods of significantly increased activity." What, if any, safety planning for these periods of "significantly increased activity" has been done in relation to the commercial entities that will be sited at DRSP? This would appear to pose a potentially significant conflict for commercial users at the DRSP.
Page 21, Section 3.3 - The EA cites numerous existing utilities and infrastructure already in place and "in the vicinity of the DRSP site." Would no-cost services such as these be a part of the General Use permit to NTSDC "to develop, operate and maintain a commercial/industrial park at the NTS?" Would emergency services including law enforcement, fire protection and emergency medical services be provided at no cost to tenants of DRSP? Would Nye County be reimbursed for related law enforcement activities at the DRSP? Would water distribution, wastewater management, electrical and communication services be provided at no cost to tenants? If so, what would be the total cost to taxpayers? This issue should be clearly addressed in the EA and should be provided as part of a total cost-benefit analysis for the DRSP.
Page 24, Section 3.4, Line 11 - The EA states that "Traffic on U.S. Highway 95 at the Mercury exist is approximately 3,600 vehicles per day." Section 4.2.5 cites NTS EIS figures, including routine traffic flow and reduced vehicle trips to Mercury since 1990. In terms of transportation impacts - does this estimate include potential legal and heavy-haul truck traffic into NTS and Yucca Mountain, both from expanded truck volumes if the NTS is selected as a regional storage facility, and from truck volumes related to the proposed Yucca Mountain site? These issues should be addressed in the EA.
Page 26, Section 3.5, "Transportation of Materials and Waste" - The EA states that "if low-level waste were to be generated from activities at the DRSP, it would be packaged and shipped off-site to a privately operated low-level waste disposal unit." (This does not seem to mesh with the statement on Page 46, Section 4.2.5, Transportation of Materials and Waste, states that "the chemicals identified to date for use at the DRSP are not carcinogenic.") Would waste streams generated during packaging activities be isolated from NTS waste streams? Would all DRSP LLW be shipped offsite or would some be disposed of at NTS? Since the DRSP is located within the NTS, would NTS waste protocols apply to the commercial tenants? The State will be particularly concerned about any businesses that might import or create LLW or other radioactive wastes in addition to those volumes already produced and stored at the NTS. Such activities would require pre-approval by appropriate State authorities and would be subject to licensing and regulation by the State Health Division. Will an additional EA be completed to address transportation, waste handling and temporary waste storage issues related to shipping commercial LLW offsite?
Page 26, Section 3.5, Lines 17-22, Solid Waste and Wastewater - The EA states that DRSP sanitary solid waste and wastewater are currently disposed on the NTS in regulatory permitted units. The document further states that DRSP enterprises would dispose of non-hazardous wastes "at the permitted facilities on the NTS." Would there be disposal fees levied on commercial tenants? Would each tenant be required to be individually permitted to dispose of such wastes or would they be covered under the "umbrella" of the NTS permits?
Page 26, Section 3.5, Lines 12-29, Hazardous Waste - The EA states that "the types of hazardous materials used by the proposed DRSP enterprises would be similar to what presently is received at the NTS, but in lesser quantities." It further states that "The quantity of hazardous waste generated at DRSP is captured within the quantities analyzed in the NTS EIS (DOE 1996)." The EA should clearly indicate the estimated volume of hazardous waste to be generated at the DRSP and how the DRSP volumes were factored into the NTS EIS. Additionally, if "all hazardous waste management activities at the DRSP would be the responsibility of the individual tenants (line 29)," why were the volumes factored into the NTS EIS? Would tenants each have to apply for hazardous waste handling and shipping permits or would they operate under the "umbrella" of existing NTS permits? Where would the waste be stored during "staging" for shipment? Would tenants likely be storing such wastes at the NTS or shipping offsite?
Based on the information provided in the EA, it is clear that the Community Re-use Organization (NTSDC) anticipates locating commercial enterprises that will produce low-level radioactive wastes and hazardous wastes. What is the potential that businesses producing waste containing both radioactive elements and other hazardous materials will be located at the DRSP? The final EA should address the possibility of production and disposition of mixed waste at the DRSP, including the regulatory and oversight regime that would be required.
Page 28, Section 3.7, Lines 23 through 38 - The EA states that "ambient air quality is not currently monitored for criteria pollutants or HAPs, with the exception of radionuclides." It further states that criteria air pollutants at the NTS include "various pollutants from fuel-burning equipment, incineration, and open burning." Section 4.2.7, Air Quality/Proposed Action, indicates that DRSP emissions "would be dispersed over the 11,000 acres of Area 22 of the NTS and that "no substantial increases in air pollution emissions are expected from activities at the DRSP."
Page 50, Section 4.2.7, Lines 4-6 states that "Emissions from the DRSP and mobile source emissions for related activities would be less than was previously evaluated in the NTS EIS (DOE, 1996) for similar programs under both Alternative 1 and the no action alternatives of this proposed action."
Given the fact that the CRO does not know (or, at least, does not state in the EA) which specific commercial businesses or types of businesses will be located at the DRSP, on what basis were these assumptions made? The EA should clearly indicate what the potential pollutant sources will be (i.e., will there be incineration or open burning?) and what effects these specific sources might have on ambient air quality. The State might, for example, contend that a hazardous waste incinerator located at the DRSP could be more noxious than pollutants from fuel-burning equipment or construction activities.
Page 64, Section 7.1 - The EA states that scoping for the document was conducted internally and externally. One public scoping meeting was held in Pahrump. "Preliminary scoping was accomplished through DOE/NV Site Use and Development Board and Working Group." Notice was given to the members of the Five-Party Agreement on July 22, 1999, to introduce and identify issues and concerns associated with the proposed action. The EA notes that "the group did not identify any issues or concerns." While these activities may or may not fit the letter of the law, the limited timeframe involved (July 22nd for a document to be released in October, 1999) may not necessarily conform with the intent of the law related to scoping.
In relation to "Coordination and Consultation" procedures, the EA states that DOE/NV will issue a "General Use Permit to the NTSDC to develop, operate and maintain a commercial/industrial park at the NTS." Does this mean that the NTSDC will retain approval authority for new business developments in the industrial park? What role, if any, would the Site Use and Development Board and Working Group have in the decision process for siting or approving industrial facilities in the park? These questions should be addressed in the final EA.
In closing, it is worth noting that the State of Nevada continues to wage a long and protracted battle against the proposed High-Level Waste Repository at Yucca Mountain. One of the key underpinnings of that battle is the States' legal prohibition against the storage or disposal of high-level waste within Nevada's borders. State agencies and officials would view any action that might undermine that policy to be contrary to the public interest. This would include siting industrial activities in direct support of DOE's high-level waste program. The State is also concerned about any businesses importing or creating additional radioactive wastes (i.e., LLW, mixed waste, etc.) and would want the opportunity to review any such proposed activities prior to locating such businesses at the DRSP.
Again, thank you for providing the State with the opportunity to review this Environmental Assessment.
Robert R. Loux