Andrews County and the state of Texas are finally bringing in money from a controversial radioactive waste dump after years of political fighting and legal wrangling over the project.
Waste Control Specialists, which runs the radioactive dump, has paid the county $630,000 and the state $3.4 million as part of an agreement that allowed the company to perform disposal operations in Andrews County. The dump began accepting out-of-state waste on July 31, but the fight over the facility began in 2003, when the Texas Legislature passed House Bill 1567, allowing the company to dispose of radioactive waste.
“This community put its faith in our company,” Waste Control Specialists CEO William Lindquist said in a prepared statement. “There would be no Texas Solution — no Texas Compact Disposal Facility — without the leadership and citizens of Andrews County. I’ve never been prouder to write a check than I was today.”
Waste Control Specialists, or WCS — owned by political mega-donor Harold Simmons — is one of the only private companies in the country that accepts radioactive waste from other states. Its Andrews County site has drawn scorn from environmental advocates since WCS began seeking licenses from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality for waste disposal. The company received licenses from TCEQ in 2007 and 2008, sparking controversy that led to the resignation of three TCEQ engineers and geologists, who argued that the Andrews County site was geologically unfit for radioactive waste disposal.
Despite the controversy, construction of the waste facility began in 2009, when Andrews County narrowly passed a bond issue to loan WCS $75 million to build the site. WCS got another boost when the Texas Legislature passed a 2011 bill allowing waste from outside Texas to be disposed there, provoking a new round of protests from environmental advocates.
The payment to Andrews County amounts to about 3 percent of the county's $21 million 2011-12 budget. The money represents a month's worth of work for WCS, which will make payments to the county and Texas quarterly from now on. Judge Richard Dolgener, who heads the Andrews County Commissioners Court, said the county hasn't decided how it will use the money, which will go into the county's general fund. Dolgener said Andrews County has budgeted for $1.5 million from WCS over the next year but that the number was uncertain. "We may not get that," he said, "or we may get more."
Environmental advocates aren't pleased with the latest milestone.
"TCEQ should never have granted WCS a license in the first place," said Texas Sierra Club Conservation Director Cyrus Reed. "There are still serious questions about the hydrogeology under the site."
Reed said the Sierra Club will keep fighting WCS in court, where two separate cases the organization has brought against WCS's licenses are in the appeals process.
Texas Tribune donors or members may be quoted or mentioned in our stories, or may be the subject of them. For a complete list of contributors, click here.