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Tuesday, January 30, 2001

Envirocare dumps Barstow waste site plan

Staff Writer

PECOS, January 30, 2001 - Envirocare of Texas has abandoned its plans to build a low-level radioactive waste storage site northeast of Barstow, and will be leaving the state and taking their "business" elsewhere, the company announced on Monday.

"We will be closing the Andrews and Monahans offices, but will leave the Austin office open for now," said Envirocare president Charles Judd from the company's Utah offices.

Envirocare had filed applications with the Texas Department of Health and the Texas Natural Resource Commission to open a long-term nuclear waste storage facility in Ward County and a mixed waste processing facility in Andrews.

The Andrews site was built after Dallas-based Waste Control Specialists opened a similar site to store hazardous waste in far western Andrews County, near Eunice, N.M. After Envirocare announced plans for their site just to the southeast, WCS filed a billion-dollar antitrust lawsuit against Envirocare of Texas and its sister company, Envirocare of Utah, in 1997.

In April of last year, Envirocare owner Khosrow Semnani in the U.S. District Court for Utah filed a defamation lawsuit against WCS; a move that came five months after Envirocare announced its plan to locate a radioactive waste storage site in Ward County.

An agreement to settle both lawsuits was reached in late November.

Judd said that terms of the agreement could not be disclosed and would not comment on whether the decision to leave Texas was part of that agreement.

The offices in Monahans and Andrews will be closed within the next couple of weeks, according to Judd.

"We have representatives in West Texas today, to start the process," said Judd.

The procedure will take awhile, but the process will begin immediately. "We'll start closing it down immediately and we have already started to make those arrangements," said Judd.

While both Envirocare and WCS originally planned to only store hazardous non-radioactive waste at their Andrews sites, both companies began seeking to store low-level radioactive waste there, after a site near Sierra Blanca in Hudspeth County was rejected in December 1998 by the Texas Natural Resources Conservation Commission and then-Gov. George W. Bush. Earthquake fault lines in the mountains of West Texas were cited as the reason for rejecting the Sierra Blanca site, while officials from Mexico objected to the location, 15 miles from the Rio Grande.

Envirocare began looking for a location outside of Andrews County after a report was issued by University of Texas geologists in the spring of 1999 which indicated both the Envirocare and WCS sites in Andrews County were above part of the Ogallala Aquifer, making them unsuitable for storing radioactive waste.

Envirocare began looking at sites in Ward County that were not above an aquifer in the summer of 1999 and in November of that year settled on land owned by rancher John Forrester, which was located eight miles northeast of Barstow and 14 miles northeast of Pecos.

Monahans officials were hoping to gain about 30 jobs from the site, though it would be twice as far away as Pecos. Envirocare opened its Monahans office last April and had also promised to donate five percent of its profits from the Barstow area site to Ward County.

Although Pecos ambulance and other emergency service personnel serve the Barstow area, Ward County Judge Sam Massey said last year his county had no plans to share any of its money from Envirocare with Pecos or Reeves County.

Reeves County Judge Jimmy B. Galindo was in Austin last Friday to meet with the representatives of Texas Gov. Rick Perry, along with other state representatives to explain the county's opposition to the Envirocare site.

"I met with Warren Chisum, state representative, about concentrating our efforts in making sure a radioactive waste disposal or management facility will not be located adjacent to Reeves County," said Galindo.

Galindo said that there's absolutely no question that Reeves County does not want to become a dumping ground for the rest of the country.

"We have made it very clear since the last legislative session in 1999," said Galindo. "The news that Envirocare is pulling out of Texas is welcome news and good for Reeves County."

Reeves County Commissioners passed a resolution last year in opposition to the site, and while Envirocare's plans have been shelved, Galindo said, "We have to be cautious as this essentially develops in the Texas Legislature."

He said that he had proposed to two representatives in the State Legislature was the creation an environmentally safe zone of about 40-50 miles on both sides of the Pecos River.

"This environmentally safe zone would be meeting the spirit of the La Paz agreement," said Galindo. "The La Paz agreement was a side agreement to the North American trade agreement between the United States and Mexico."

Specifically, La Paz required that the U.S. not locate hazardous disposal sites within 60 miles of the Rio Grande.

"I proposed to (State Rep.) Gary Walker and (State Sen.) Frank Madla that with regard to the Pecos River as a tributary of the Rio Grande, we would like to establish an environmentally safe zone and link it with the agreement of the La Paz agreement," said Galindo.

The La Paz agreement is a side agreement to NAFTA, according to Galindo.

"This agreement will protect Reeves County and adjacent counties to the Pecos River and meet the spirit of the federal agreement to U.S. and Mexico. "I asked Walker and Madla to support this bill and to put in an agreement to protect Reeves County and the adjacent counties," he said.

"This is not a time to stop or retreat," said Galindo.

Galindo said the next step was to create an environmentally safe zone.

Blowing dust delays traffic south of town

Staff Writer

PECOS, January 30, 2001 - People traveling from Balmorhea to Pecos on Highway 17 Monday discovered they would have a long wait to complete their trip as Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) closed one lane of the highway due to high winds and blowing dust.

Public Information Officer for TxDOT's Odessa District, Glen Larum, said that the 45-mph winds blew dust across the highway, creating visibility problems.

At 2:45 p.m., TxDOT closed a 20-mile section of highway from Pecos to Farm-to-Market 2448 for about an hour.

"We closed it totally for about an hour," he said.

Larum said they did not want to continue having the highway shut down but also did not want to have two lanes open leaving a better possibility of accidents.

"We thought it was important to keep traffic moving," he said.

Larum said the visibility was so poor that having two lanes open would create an opportunity for accidents to happen if someone were to try and pass another vehicle.

"We didn't want to create those kinds of opportunities," he said.

Blowing dust conditions forced TxDOT crews to close Highway 17 twice last year, the first time following a multiple-vehicle accident that included a Balmorhea ISD school bus.

To prevent a repeat of last year's problem while getting traffic through the blowing dust area, TxDOT decided to open one lane of traffic and lead a line of cars through the area with a "pilot car" at about 3:45 p.m.

Larum explained that the "pilot car" would lead a line of cars from Pecos to FM 2448 between Verhalen and Saragosa and then turn around and lead another line of cars back to town.

"This is the first time we've done this," he said.

Normally when conditions are this extreme, Larum said TxDOT would just shut down the highway but they decided to keep the traffic moving.

Larum said that the system worked with the maximum of 20 cars waiting in line for the escort.

"There was only one accident that was during the `pilot car' time," he said.

Larum explained that on one of the runs, the second to last car in line had very nearly came to a stop or did stop and the car behind it ran into the vehicle.

There were no injuries resulting from that accident.

TxDOT reopened that portion of Highway 17 at about 5:30 p.m.

Larum said that it was an unusual day for TxDOT's Odessa district.

"At one end we warned people of snow and ice and the other end was blowing dust," he said.

Galindo, Owens disagree on accounting system

Staff Writer

PECOS, January 30, 2001 - Reeves County Judge Jimmy Galindo wants to implement an additional accounting system at the Reeves County Detention Center (RCDC).

Galindo said that the proposed system would give him a better day-to-day picture of the prison's finances.

County Auditor Lynn Owens disagrees.

"It's a complete waste of money and time," Owens said. "If this system were going to do what they think it will, it would be great _ but I don't think it will."

The topic was one of four items on the agenda at yesterday's special meeting of the commissioner's court.

Galindo asked for, and received, the court's nod of approval to solicit a contract for professional services from the accounting firm of Speer and Murray to investigate implementing an accrual-based accounting system.

Galindo said he expected the consultation to cost the county less than $10,000.

"Probably (it will cost) between five and eight thousand dollars," he said.

Currently, Reeves County uses a cash-based system for accounting. Owens explained that with a cash-based system, money is not counted until it is received or a check is written.

With an accrual-based system money is counted when an account is billed, or when merchandise is ordered.

Galindo said that the accrual system would give him a more accurate day-to-day knowledge of the prison's finances.

"It is becoming increasingly difficult to make the calls on (when to pay) purchase orders," Galindo said. Galindo explained that it was hard to know what orders to authorize when he did not have the most accurate picture of the county's immediate finances.

"I understand that if you could get this information it would be a tremendous help," Owens said, "But this is not going to do what they think it will do. What the Judge wants is to be able to look at a line item in the budget and see everything that has been charged against that line item.

"To actually implement that system will be very cumbersome. Every item you purchase will have to be entered into the system whether it is actually received or not. Requisitions are not perfect. Freight charges change, items end up back ordered or simply not delivered."

Owens said that under the proposed system, for the information to be accurate, each purchase will have to adjusted as the details are sorted out, such as freight charges, non-shipment, and back orders.

"It will take a lot of maintenance to do the necessary adjustments," Owens said, "And the adjustments will need to be made every day."

Owens also said that the new system would not affect his ability to audit the prison's finances as a part of the county.

According to Owens the county uses a financial software package named Apollo to keep the county's books.

Galindo's proposal makes use of the same software package using the accrual method rather than the cash method.

Galindo estimated that it would cost about $40,000 to purchase and implement the software.

In other business the commissioners approved a $130,000 payment to Banes General Contractors for work completed on the RCDC expansion project, and a $14,000 payment to DRG Architects for remodeling work on the Support Services building at the prison.

In the final order of business the court decided to spend an extra $12,600 to use glass on the back walls of the ongoing racquetball court project.

Galindo said that the glass would be a valuable feature allowing for better safety and tournament play with staff and referees being able to see what was going on in each court.

Balmorhea ISD plans meeting for Thursday

PECOS, January 30, 2001 - Balmorhea ISD will meet at 7 p.m. Thursday in the Balmorhea ISD Board Room.

The group will meet behind closed doors to discuss the superintendent's evaluation.

During the open part of the meeting board members will discuss the superintendent's formal evaluation results.


Manuel Gonzales and Arlene Hill


PECOS, January 30, 2001 - High Monday 53. Low this morning 32. Weekend precipitation at Texas A&M Experiment Station: .41 inch. Forecast for tonight: Partly cloudy. Low around 25. Northwest wind 5 to 15 mph. Wednesday: Partly cloudy. High 45 to 50. North to northeast wind 10 to 20 mph, diminishing to 5 to 10 mph during the afternoon. Wednesday night: Partly cloudy. Low 20 to 25. Thursday: Partly cloudy. High around 50.

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