August 22, 2018

By Alison Penn
Roswell Daily Record

Roswell meeting on Holec proposal.

Elizabeth Gilbert and Councilors Savino Sanchez and Jacob Roebuck sit at the table of the large conference room as Nick Maxwell shares his opinion on the Holtec International Project on Wednesday afternoon during the General Services Committee meeting. (Alison Penn Photo)

Citizens share opposition or ask city to remain neutral

Editor’s note: This story has been changed to correct the dollar amount associated with the proposed Holtec facility’s construction.

The city of Roswell’s General Services Committee lent their ears to citizen opinions on the proposed Holtec International Project to store nuclear waste in between Carlsbad and Hobbs.

Around 30 people gathered into the large conference room at City Hall on Wednesday afternoon for an hour and a half meeting. The agenda included the Holtec project as a non-action item; no formal action was taken by the city at Wednesday’s meeting.

Chairman Councilor Savino Sanchez made a preamble asking the public to maintain decorum and remain respectful during the speeches. Committee members Jacob Roebuck and Angela Moore were present and Councilors Jeanine Corn Best, Judy Stubbs and Caleb Grant sat in the audience.

Councilor Juan Oropesa was the only councilor who shared his opinion on the matter. Oropesa referenced the city of Albuquerque’s vote to approve a resolution opposing Holtec, which he called a "dangerous project." Lake Arthur City Council also passed a resolution in opposition to the nuclear waste storage and its transportation on the state’s railroad tracks and highways. Oropesa shared his concerns about the waste traveling through Roswell due to a recent railroad derailment and another in Artesia a few years ago.

Oropesa said Mayor Dennis Kintigh has proposed a meeting with Holtec personnel to speak to the council. Oropesa said his original intention was to introduce a resolution in opposition — but added he wanted it to just be on the table for discussion since the other meeting has been planned.

The HI-STORE CIS $2.4 billion underground site on 1,000 acres would be interim storage for 8,860 metric tons of nuclear fuel for 40 years (with potential to extend longer) between Carlsbad and Hobbs. According to previous coverage, the project was approved in June 2016 by Hobbs and Carlsbad and their respective counties Lea and Eddy counties, while Holtec International and Eddy-Lea Energy Alliance (ELEA) submitted their application to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The fuel would be transported by the railway to the site until a permanent site is created.

The proposers claim Holtec would assist in infrastructure and other benefits to the economy, but the project has drawn opposition from many environmental activists and other citizens. Various meetings dedicated to the Holtec conversation have been held since the beginning of the year in the southeast region. On the Roswell level, a meeting was held last December.

Martin Kral asked the city to maintain a neutral position on Holtec to allow for the power of leverage in potential negotiations. He said proposing a resolution would cause the city to lose power to negotiate and would "get stuck" with the decision of the federal and state government.

Jimi Gadzia said she was "adamantly against" the Holtec Project and sees no benefit, only a "huge risk" to the city, county and local agricultural industry. Gadzia said railroad representatives said at a public meeting that the railroad line transporting the materials is the "worst in the state, if not the country" and there was no training for the railroad personnel to address radioactive materials. She said she has been attending as many meetings as possible on the matter and witnessed ELEA members speak against another similar project in Texas because they were not benefitting financially.

As someone in the oil business, Thomas "Tom" Jennings said an accident at one of the "hottest plays" in the U.S. could come at a high cost for the local business owners. Jennings said that the Holtec project was highly risky for a low benefit. He said he attended an NRC meeting with seven people in favor (six were nuclear engineering students working for Holtec and one Holtec employee) and 48 attendees in opposition.

Nick Maxwell, from Hobbs, provided public records and resolutions opposing Holtec. He alleged ELEA, a tax-funded body, has held multiple meetings without following the Open Meetings Act and thereby violating them. He also gave a packet from an ELEA meeting on Wednesday morning to the councilors and shared news that ELEA hired a lobbyist to push the matter to the state Legislature.

"I just wanted to let you know Eddy-Lea Energy Alliance is bad news," Maxwell said. "Whether or not you agree with Holtec or not, you should concern yourself that this regional government Eddy-Lea Energy Alliance didn’t play by the rules. They got to where they were and where they are now by breaking our laws."

Lorraine Villegas, also from Hobbs, works in the oil and gas industry and has been to several meetings about Holtec. She said she is aware that the proposed economic growth is an incentive for small communities to pass the matter, but she asked how many billions of dollars did the Waste Isolation Pilot Project (WIPP) in Carlsbad site cost the region. She asked for caution from the council on deciding on the matter.

"I oppose it," Villegas said. "If we’re going to call this project consent-based, it’s important to acknowledge that the majority of people who have been at these meetings have opposed it and these are the people who vote for people around here."

City/RISD reporter Alison Penn can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 205, or at reporter04(at)rdrnews.com.

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