The Inyo Register

Thursday, October 4, 2001

County irked with DOE's Yucca actions

Angered that DOE continues to ignore those closest to proposed site, Inyo's leaders issue harsh statement of record

By Darcy Ellis
News Staff

Inyo County's governing body issued yet another statement yesterday to the Department of Energy expressing its continued dismay at the entity's public hearing process, despite the DOE having scheduled two public meetings on Yucca Mountain in Independence and Lone Pine.

The county's statement was to be read into the record yesterday by Andrew Remus on behalf of the Inyo County Board of Supervisors at the Independence field hearing meeting. The meeting was announced last Friday by the DOE and scheduled for 3-8 p.m. at the American Legion Hall.

The Lone Pine field hearing meeting has been set for 3-8 p.m. at Statham Hall. All of DOE's public hearings and field hearings are being held as part of a public comment period; which has been extended to Friday, Oct. 19, regarding Yucca Mountain's suitability as a site. for a nuclear waste repository.

In previous announcements, Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham has maintained that his efforts to ensure ample opportunity for the public to comment go above and beyond what is required by law and what was planned by previous administrations.

Remus, project coordinator for the Inyo County's Yucca Mountain assessment office has been at the forefront of the board's efforts to convince the DOE to hold a public hearing in Furnace Creek attended by Abraham. For weeks, no response was received from the letters sent to the DOE and the Secretary of Energy, despite them having the written support of Congressman Jerry Lewis and Senator Dianne Feinstein.

Then, on Friday, it was announced that 29 separate "field hearing meetings" would be held in every Nevada county and also in Inyo, as further testament to Abraham's efforts. to 'provide adequate comment opportunity, according to a DOE press release. According to Remus, the DOE's attempt to satisfy Inyo officials with the two meetings has failed, as the county's request for a Furnace Creek hearing has still been ignored.

"This attempt at a hearing falls woefully short of meeting the needs and expectations of Inyo County as stated clearly in the Board of Supervisors" letter to ... Abraham dated Sept. 4, 2001,"reads an excerpt from the statement Remus was preparing to read at yesterday's meeting. "In that letter we requested a full public hearing on site suitability, attended by Secretary Abraham, at Furnace Creek in Death Valley National Park, the area potentially most negatively impacted from the operation of a repository at Yucca Mountain."

The statement goes on to indicate that holding field hearing meetings as opposed to fullfledged public hearings is an added insult.

"Instead of granting our request, the department has seen fit to ignore it and stage, with minimal notice and lead time, 'field hearings' which have none of the scope, scale or, exposure warranted of a hearing on a project the magnitude of the proposed repository" the statement reports, Congressman Lewis, incidentally, appears to have a different take on the Independence and Lone Pine meetings.

"I want to thank Secretary Abraham for understanding that the citizens of Inyo County face potential groundwater threats and hazardous materials spills on county roads from the Yucca Mountain Project," Lewis reported via press release. "I hope this will give the residents of our county an opportunity to present their concerns and ensure they are addressed."

According to Remus in a telephone conservation Wednesday morning, the DOE is most likely trying to speed up the comment process as best it can, since Abraham is expected to make a nuclear repository site recommendation to President, Bush sometime this month or next.

"I think they're in a hurry and `want to get the hearing process for site recommendation completed as soon as possible," he said, indicating that, unfortunately, Inyo residents, particularly those in Death Valley 17 miles from Yucca Mountain, are paying the price for expediency.

Also, he reported, several small field hearing meetings as opposed to actual public hearings mean smaller groups of residents commenting on the issue, and considerably less fanfare and problems like those that occurred at the Sept. 5 hearing in Las Vegas, which ran four hours over schedule and still left many without the chance to be heard.

Public hearings, by nature, are supposed to allow for many groups to communicate their views; and adequately report what occurred to those that could not attend, through widespread media coverage and the like, Remus continued, reporting that notice of the meetings was published in the Federal Register just yesterday.

Remus and the Board of Supervisors maintain that under the Nuclear Waste Policy Act, Inyo has every right to a fullfledged public hearing since it gets federal funding as an affected entity because of its proximity to the proposed repository, the fact that studies indicate Death Valley's groundwater will be contaminated if any waste leaks from Yucca Mountain and because the DOE is proposing to transport that waste on the highways through the southeast portions of Inyo.

"It is obvious that, besides being premature and inadequate, these hearings are a clear violation of the letter and intent of the NWPA," the county's statement further reads, explaining that neither Independence nor Lone Pine is in the "vicinity" of Yucca Mountain as required by law. "The field hearings are a poorly disguised attempt to placate concerned parties in our county, to avoid further high-profile debacles like the Sept. S site characterization hearing in Las Vegas, to enable DOE management to claim they have held public hearings in California and to expedite the review process ... to forward a positive recommendation on Yucca Mountain years ahead of completion of comprehensive scientific studies ... and before ... a transportation risk assessment..."

Until the proper environmental studies are completed and Inyo County is finally respected as an Affected Unit of Local Government and the most at-risk from a Yucca site, the county, the statement concludes, will pursue correction of the DOE's continued actions "by whatever means available."

For more information on the public hearing sessions,. or the Civilian Radioactive Waste Management Program, visit the Yucca Mountain website at www.ymp.gov or call (800) 9673477.