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Pahrump Mirror
Pahrump, Nevada
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April 10, 1997     Pahrump Mirror
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April 10, 1997
 

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I0 Thursday, April I0, 1997 Pahrump Valley Gazette Editorial I Ill I I II II Waste Not, Want Not One man's trash is another's treasure, as long as it stays profitable By Robert Lowes COELLE COUNTY, Utah - As it neared the end of the work shift last March 28, most Americans were thinking about taking a few days off for the Easter weekend, but not the 200 people who worked for Laidlaw Environmental services in this small western Utah community to the east of the twin border towns of Wendover, Nevada-Utah. Instead of thinking about the Easter break, these folks wondered where their next paycheck would come from as their jobs were about to be eliminated as one of the Beehive state' s two commercial hazardous-waste incinerators .shut down. Their employer, Laidlaw Environmental Services, the disposal contracted with by the State of Utah, which made the decision to place the Tooele County incinerator on indefinite standby, brought to an abrupt end more than 15 years of rapid growth in the state's commercial waste- disposal industry. It was the first time that capacity to burn or bury society's refuse is finally catching up - and in some cases exceeding - tim amount of waste being produced. While the boom years might be ending for this industry, most of the remaining waste-disposal operations in Utah are expected to survive. They serve specific markets and should be able to adjust to are more steady or even declining flow of the hazardous wastes. For those readers who might not be familiar with the area, Tooele County is located in the western Utah desert between Nevada and the Great Salt Lake near the site of the famous Bonneville Flats Dry Lake, where world-speed records have been set. Residents of Nevada, Nye County in particular, are intimately familiar with the problem of disposing of both low-level and high-level hazardous wastes. And the debate goes on concerning development of the nation's first and only proposed high-level radioactive dump at Yucca Mountain in the heart of Nye County. The residents of the Silver State are near-unanimous in their opposition to becoming the nation's dump for its unwanted wastes from nuclear reactors, 85 percent of which are located east of the Mississippi River, requiring the nuclear hot stuff to be shipped cross-country by either road or rail. On the other hand, the government wants the Yucca Mountain site, if that is it can be proved to be geologically- sound and environmentally-sate. Good thing I'm not a betting man as I am inclined to be on sure things. And this smells of a done-deal despite the unified efforts of our congressional delegation, the elected leadership of the state of Nevada, not to mention the polled opinions of the major- ity of residents of the Silver State. It appears that Judas may have some descendants living and prospering in high elective and appointed places right here in our own Nye County. Figuring the rate of inflation since the calendar was changed from B,C. to A.D., these modem day descendants have profited by far more than the proverbial 30 pieces of silver - a lot more[ Latest development on this nuclear waste disposal front is the recent announcement by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is that the government agency is extending its public comment period on its proposed Yucca Mountain regulations to April 16, 1997. Wonder if they will allow us until midnight on that date like their friends over at the IRS is graciously expected to do on the preceding day. The DOE is proposing to amend its guidelines for recom- mending potential repository sites to establish site-specific guidelines for evaluating the suitability of Yucca Mountain for development as a repository for high-level radioactive wastes. The proposed amendments focus on the ability of a by R.P..L repository system at the Nye County site to protect health and safety by adequately containing and isolating the wastes, rather than on evaluating each technical aspect of the site independently as has been the current procedure which has resulted in lengthy delays and substantial cost over-runs. As most regular readers may know, there are some new bosses in command to oversee operations at the DOE both locally and nationally. In Las Vegas, Gerry Johnson will manage the department's Nevada Operations Office start- ing May 5. Johnson will replace Nevada's acting manager, Terry Vaeth, who has directed operations at the local since February 1995. Vaeth, according to sources, will remain as deputy manager in Las Vegas. At the national level, former Transportation Secretary Federico Pena replaced the controversial former DOE Sec- retary Hazel O' Leary in a new term cabinet-level shakeup of the Clinton administration. But getting back to the problems of disposing of the low-level commercial wastes, the now-closed USEcology low-level disposal site to the south of Beatty is reported to be leaking radioactivity into the Amargosa Valley ground water supply. A big problem that is causing the Boise, Idaho-based company grave concerns and delays in the development of a similar dumpsite facility in the Ward Valley between the neighboring casino city of Laughlin and the California border community of Needles. Environmen- talists fear the same thing that's happen!ng in Beatty could also happen downstream from these southern Colorado River communities. In addition to complying with a Congressional mandate for the disposal of the low-level wastes, these waste-dis- posal operations have become a critical part of the economic mix in the local communities of both states. In Utah for example, some 2.16 million tons of waste classified as either hazardous, radioactive or industrial were handled by a total of seven commercial disposal facilities in that state during 1996. Most of which was shipped there from other states. And to compound the situation, the U.S. Army started up its $650 million incinerator last year to dispose of 1.1 million weapons containing some 13,600 tons of chemical agents stored by the government at the Desert Chemical Depot about 15 miles south of Tooele. How about living downwind from that? Combined, the commercial and military operations in 1996 provided 1,411 direct jobs and paid some $7.4 million in fees to the state. Tooele County, where most of the disposal facilities are located, charges users its own fees that last year accounted for almost a third of county government 0 revenues. While the industry has been profitable, it also has been controversial. Environmental activists have begun to discover Utah and are currently waging an aggressive legal and public rela- tions battle to shut down the Army's chemical-weapons incinerator. They contend the operation is dangerous and have asked the military to switch to what they consider safer disposal techniques. Nevadans share those same sentiments with our Utah neighbors. Neither state wants to become the western garbage can for the nation, nor does it want to trade one man's trash, and all that comes with it, for any amount of treasure. Known by the company you keep It's true of all of us, "we are known by the company we keep." And that's why we were doubly honored to have our recent column dedicated to our old friend and early mentor, the late Herb Caen, the Pulitzer-prize winning columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle, included at the Bancroft Library at the University of California Berkeley or the San Francisco Public Library in a permanent setting sometime wthm the year. We are also indebted to the Nevada reader who submitted the LowesLine Column to the Chronicle. Dougherty, Twain, comets, and a loss to Pahrump Mike Doughtery writes one heck of a column, "In the Thermometer's Shadow." I enjoy the desert escapades he describes so articulately. His recent column describing the awesome sight of the now fading Hale-Bopp comet was particularly enjoyable. And, of all things, photographer Ethel Messer was prophetic once again by asking the ques- tion, "What effect do you think the presence of a comet has on people?" The question was posed a week before the revelation of the terrible sequence of events in southern California. This was the second time Ethel has foretold future events. If she ever composes the question, "How would you react in a nuclear exchange?" I'm gonna head for the hills. I've been watching the comet for over a month now and it has certainly been the "comet of my lifetime." As Mike so aptly put it, the others, although much ballyhooed, were a bust. The much heralded Halley's comet was a real disap- pointment. Halley's, you'll recall, returns every 76 years and therein lies another tale of prophecy. Samuel Clemens, a.k.a, Mark Twain, was born in the year of Halley's and would later predict he would live only long enough to see its return. Clements lived precisely 76 years, dying shortly after the comet's return. I drove to Pahrump recently and as I came over the hill I was dumbfounded by the lights. It's starting to look like Las Vegas. There were what appeared to be six huge bright white lights in the center of town. These turned out to be the ball field lights. It had been only about seven or eight months I I NORTHWRN EXPOSURE by Dave Downing I Ill I ] I since I used to come down every week. In just that short a period the town has grown immensely. Earlier, just south of Crystal, I pulled over to the side of the road to watch the comet in the clear black sky. I leaned against my truck and just stood in awe of the spectacular sight before me. I measured the tail and guessed it spread out about six to eight degrees. The moon is one-half a degree. When I arrived in Pahrump I checked the comet again. I could see it but the tail was barely visible, perhaps a degree or so. Why the difference? Astronomers call it light pollu- tion. The light of a metropolitan area wipes out all but the brightest of stars. Pahrump is fast becoming just that. Here, in the north county, I need only walk into my backyard to see the clarity of skies as described near Crystal. Well, not entirely true. The county courthouse is right next door to me and those stinkin' lights are on all night. IfI really want clear skies I need to go a mile or so up Radar Road. D I feel sorry for those who have never taken the time to enjoy our high desert skies and the beauty they display at night. The Milky Way stretches across the sky like a wavy band of clouds. You can't even see 'th6 Milky :Way'n ' Pahrump. Stand in the high desert and look straight up.  .... About every five minutes yoU'll see a pih'-int bright light' moving from south to north or visa versa. It moves quickly and is sometimes the cause of UFO reports. It's actually an >` artificial satellite you're seeing. ....... Go out and lay down in the desert during a meteor shower and watch the bright objects streak majestically across the expanse. The best and most reliable shower occurs on the evenings of August 11 and 12, called the Perseid Meteor Shower. This shower can be expected to produce meteors every few minutes. Pahrumpians will be best to head at least 15 to 20 miles out of town for any of these glorious events. To me it is a terrible price to pay for progress.