The Inyo Register

South county group targets Yucca

Southeast Area Citizen Advisory Committee set to meet next Monday
By Darcy Ellis

January 10, 2002

The Inyo County Southeast Area Citizen Advisory Committee is meeting next Monday to discuss a number of ongoing issues affecting that region of the county and its residents.

Among the discussion topics scheduled to resurface next week are Yucca Mountain and the group's role as directed by the county's Board of Supervisors.

Monday's meeting begins at 10 a.m. at the Visitors Center Auditorium at Furnace Creek, Death Valley National Park. Members of the public are invited to attend and will be given chances to comment.

Both Yucca Mountain and the committee's role in relation to the Board of Supervisors were discussed at meetings the group has held in recent months.

At the Dec. 17 SACAC meeting held in Shoshone at the Flower Building, committee members were told that they can expect Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham to make his recommendation regarding Yucca Mountain sometime in the next couple of months. Abraham is supposed to recommend to President Bush whether the Department of Energy should go ahead with Yucca Mountain as the nation's nuclear waste storage facility.

The Yucca Mountain proposal is especially of concern to residents of the southeast areas of the county, because, as county staff has reported in the past, groundwater studies reveal that water from underneath the mountain eventually ends up on the Death Valley floor via the Amargosa River. The fear associated with this information is that any leakage at the geological repository could possibly contaminate southeast Inyo's drinking water. Another concern is possible effects on the mineral waters of the Tecopa Hot Springs, which provide that particular township its major source of income.

Andrew Remus, the liaison from SACAC to the Board of Supervisors as well Inyo's Yucca Mountain Project Coordinator, reported that he and other staff from units of government affected by the Yucca Mountain proposal met with DOE Undersecretary Robert Card on Dec. 13. According to the SACAC's minutes, Remus reported that no new information pertaining to the project or Abraham's recommendation came out of that meeting.

Committee member Jennifer Viereck also reported on Yucca related matters. She explained that she attended the final Las Vegas public hearing under the Mountain Site Recommendation Process, and although Secretary Abraham was in attendance, he stepped out the door for a news conference just as she arrived and she was unable to speak directly to him. In terms of that same hearing, the committee expressed puzzlement over why the hearing "was disproportionately well attended by pro-dump individuals," the meetings minutes states. The fear was also expressed by committee members that some Nevadans will agree to Yucca Mountain as the nation's repository if they are given a Nevada only tax break.

The other predominant topic that surfaced throughout last month's meeting was the committee's relationship to the Board of Supervisors.

A couple months ago, it was brought to County Administrator Rene Mendez's attention that the SACAC had sent a letter to Senator Barbara Boxer asking for support of an effort to have the Amargosa River designated as Wild and Scenic. (Part of the reason the committee wants to support such an effort is that it may further restrict the Yucca Mountain Project). The committee had also forwarded a letter to several other agencies and government representatives that it was sending to the board. Mendez reported to the Board of Supervisors during a November meeting that such letters jeopardized Inyo County's small-to-begin-with political voice, especially if supervisors decided they would not be supporting the Amargosa effort after hearing from more of their constituents.

At the November supervisors meeting, Mendez reported that staff had already resolved the matter with the SACAC and the committee's role, as that of a strictly advisory body, had been clarified.

Yet according to the December minutes of the SACAC meeting, at least one committee member was unsure as to why the committee's actions were out of place. "Member (Susan) Sorrells was dismayed at getting a different story from every person she talked to regarding the reason why the Board of Supervisors criticized SACAC for going beyond their (sic) role as an advisory committee," stated the Dec. 17 minutes. "She has talked with individuals from similar committees and found that they too had drafted letters and sent them to different agencies without first obtaining the Board of Supervisors' approval.

Committee member Jann Rucquoi has reviewed the Advisory Committees' Charter outlined in county resolution No. 98-58, and the committee has drafted a letter to the board asking for a clarification of committee and liaison roles. The letter was to be sent to the board as an agenda item.

The committee also hopes to be able to have a standing agenda item before the board once a month to help improve a communication situation that one member earlier in the meeting dubbed a "substantial ... problem."

Committee member Rucquot pointed out, as an example, that the SACAC only occasionally receives Board of Supervisors agenda and meeting minutes. Staff was asked to rind out what can be done to ensure the documents are sent out by the county clerk to the southeast areas in a "timely and regular fashion."

In addition to the two topics discussed in this article, the SACAC will also be addressing at its Jan. 14 Meeting the Inyo County General Plan, the committee recruitment and restructuring process, and the upcoming Jan. 22, 28 and 29 Supervisors meetings.