Pahrump Valley Gazette

March 29, 2001

Esmeralda county group visits capitol to discuss area's future

By Carol Sirnes

A group from Esmeralda County recently took the county's hopes to improve its economic conditions to the nation's capital and, at the same time, visited with officials involved in the potential shipment of high-level nuclear waste to nearby Yucca Mountain.

Esmeralda county Commission chairman Ben Viljoen led the group that met with members of the Nevada congressional delegation and Department of Energy officials during his trip on Wednesday, March 7.

The focus of the meetings was to improve economic conditions in Esmeraida County and to protect the health and safety interests of the public if a decision is made to transport nuclear waste to Yucca Mountain.

Viljoen was accompanied by Paul Siedler and Ace Robison of Robison/Seidler, Inc.

Over the last several years, Robison and Seidler have helped put the county in a unique position by establishing relationships with the national decision-makers and making them aware of the county's numerous economic and public safety issues.

Part of the commissioner's time was spent attending the Energy Community Alliance, a new leadership conference.

The ECA's mission is to bring together local government officials in DOE-impacted communities to share information, establish policy positions and advocate community interests in order to address environmental regulatory and economic development needs.

The ECA communities are involved in a large national, annual environmental restoration program, with Nevada as the proposed final destination point for millions of cubic feet of radioactive material.

This year the amount of low-level radioactive material that has come through the county has exceeded the DOE's expectations by more than 300 per cent.

In light of this, Esmeralda County Commissioners and Robison/Siedler have worked with the ECA since its inception to build sensitivity to the many issues the county faces as a corridor community for hazardous waste.

Esmeralda County has so far received over $100,000 from the DOE to enhance its emergency response capability, and expect to receive another $50,000 by the end of the fiscal year.

Viljoen and Robison/Siedler also discussed the future of the Yucca Mountain program at length with the DOE administration.

The county can expect legislation to be introduced soon that would keep plans on track to open the repository by 2010. A driving factor is the energy crisis, which has, ad will continue to, increase the demand for nuclear, as well as alternative sources, of power. The delegation that visited Washington indicated that 90 percent of the power plants in operation in the US are expected to have their licenses renewed.

This will have a significant impact on the Yucca Mountain decision.

They then met with Senators Harry Reid and John Ensign and Representative Jim Gibbons to discuss several issues of importance to Esmeralda County.

Almost 98 percent of Esmeralda County is public land, or land managed by the federal government.

As the delegation noted, this severely impairs the potential for community expansion and economic development.

The Esmeralda Commission is working with the Bureau of Land Management and congressional staff to acquire territory from the federal government through legislative actin and land exchanges.

Another priority for the Esmeralda Commission is to convey trespass land in Gold Point and North Goldfield over to private ownership,

Viljoen has been working with the Nevada congressional delegation to repair Alkali Road, a major artery for commuter traffic between Silver Peak and Goldfield.

Years of weathering and industrial traffic have fissured the soft clay and pavement to the point where driving conditions are now unsafe.

He also entered into discussions about making additional funding available for maintenance of public roads. Currently, Esmeralda County only receives recognition and funding for less that a third of the roads it maintains throughout the county.

Anther topic that local residents feel is very important had to do with the mining industry in the county.

Mining is an integral part of Esmeralda County economy and employs a significant percentage of its residents.

The county will be working with the federal government to develop a program that will ease the burden put on mining companies to assess claims while ensuring the preservation and protection of the environment.