MITIGATION OF ANTICIPATED IMPACTS IN EUREKA COUNTY
Environmental disclosures produced to date by the Department of Energy (DOE) regarding the proposed geologic repository and its transportation components are vague, incomplete, and inadequate. Until the DOE has adequately described the proposed action, the affected environment, and the anticipated environmental impacts (both specific and cumulative), with full public participation, any description of mitigation is tentative and preliminary.
Also, it would not be possible to completely mitigate certain impacts analyzed in this report, such as the impacts from a severe transportation accident with a release of radioactivity on natural resources, the County’s economy, and a way of life. The reader should consider the information in the following paragraphs in this light.
Eureka County has previously discussed, in its written comments on the DEIS (Eureka County, 2000) and earlier in this report, the need for the proposed action to obtain various state and federal permits. These permits should include stringent financial security and bonding requirements, in accordance with the rules and regulations of the permitting authorities.
Finally, all mitigation measures described here must incorporate rigorous monitoring and follow-up, during both construction and operations. Monitoring and follow-up must be conducted to make sure that the DOE and its contractors comply with all conditions of project approval, that mitigation measures are effective, and that mitigation is provided for all anticipated and unanticipated impacts. When the DOE prepares and circulates the required environmental disclosure documents, they must describe all types of monitoring in detail, and identify the entities responsible for conducting and paying for all activities. State and local authorities must oversee all monitoring efforts, but the DOE must either pay all monitoring costs or make sure they are paid by others.
Examples of the types of activities that require monitoring include: conduct of the proposed shipping campaign during floods and other natural disasters; compliance with regulatory limits on the amount of time a rail car loaded with spent nuclear fuel or high-level radioactive waste may be parked in one location; and damage to and repair of fences.
Mitigation of impacts on the natural environment
Hydrology and water resources. Mitigation must be provided for direct and indirect impacts from flood damage to the proposed rail line. The mitigation must include measures to mitigate operational disruptions to SNF and HLW shipments caused by flooding, so that the residents of Eureka County are not exposed to additional health and safety risks. Contingency plans for reconstruction of flood-damaged infrastructure must also be included.
The DOE must also completely mitigate the release of surface and groundwater contaminants, from both construction and operations, as well as the construction- and operations-related impacts of water wells installed for the construction phase. If the construction of the proposed rail line results in waste rock piles, they must be evaluated for acid rock drainage potential, and any corresponding impacts must also be mitigated. Water resource impacts from all surface disturbance, cuts, fills, pits, and roads, temporary and permanent, must be completely mitigated with best management practices and a stormwater pollution prevention plan approved by Nevada’s Division of Environmental Protection. Waste rock dumps must be engineered and constructed to mitigate acid rock drainage, ensure long-term stability, provide for concurrent and final reclamation, and reduce overall visual impacts.
The DOE must describe the potential water resource impacts of a severe accident involving the release of radioactivity, including impacts that would be created during and by the response, and prepare a complete mitigation program for those impacts. That program should include plans to compensate the owners of any water rights rendered useless by an accident.
Air resources. The DOE must identify impacts on sensitive receptors and provide mitigation for all air pollution that would be created during the construction and operations phases of the proposed action. Covered sources must include, at a minimum, haul trucks, other mobile construction equipment, workers’ vehicles, service vehicles, train locomotives, boilers, burners, legal-weight trucks carrying SNF or HLW to the proposed repository, escorts, disturbed land, borrow pits, landfills, roads, lay-down areas, and the railroad right-of-way itself. The mitigation program must include all necessary dust suppressants during the construction and operations phases.
If the proposed action is affected by the prevention of significant deterioration (PSD) requirements of the federal Clean Air Act, the DOE must provide mitigation for any adverse financial and economic impacts the proposed action has on existing industries and Eureka County, including impacts on future economic development opportunities.
The DOE must describe the potential air resource impacts and resultant health effects of a severe accident involving the release of radioactivity, including impacts that would be created during and by the response, and prepare a complete mitigation program for those impacts.
Vegetation and soils. Implementation of the proposed action must include mitigation of all impacts on soils and vegetation in Eureka County. At a minimum, the mitigation program must address: the reclamation of all disturbed land, including land fills and borrow pits; identification and protection of all sensitive plant species; control and eradication of noxious weeds; wind and water erosion; soil compaction; wildfire; removal of contaminated soil following a transportation accident; and soil disturbance during emergency response activities.
A reclamation plan must be prepared, with the objectives of minimizing public safety hazards, stabilizing disturbed areas, and providing a post-project surface condition consistent with the anticipated long-term land use (e.g., wildlife habitat, grazing). The DOE must post a bond with the State of Nevada or Eureka County to ensure that reclamation work will be done, and create a long-term contingency fund for long-term monitoring and corrective actions that may be required. The bond should cover not only contractor costs but also supervisory and administrative costs of affected public agencies.
Regarding noxious weeds, the mitigation program must include a weed coordinator during the construction phase. The coordinator would work for and report to Eureka County (at the DOE's expense), and would be responsible for mapping, construction scheduling, and weed spraying, in coordination with the BLM, County road crews, and DOE contractors.
Wildlife and fish. The DOE must evaluate and mitigate all impacts on wildlife and fish, including, at a minimum: the loss of wildlife habitat and forage; degradation of habitat by nearby human activity; obstructions to wildlife movement; entrapment; impacts upon sage grouse strutting grounds; impacts on other sensitive wildlife species; impacts on brook trout, brown trout, and other fish; habitat damage created by invasions of noxious weeds; wildlife mortality in collisions with vehicles; and the risk of wildfire, habitat disturbance, contamination, or a combination as a result of a severe transportation accident. The DOE should place special emphasis on protection of resources in the Humboldt River and its immediate vicinity.
Range resources. Before the proposed action is implemented, the DOE must identify and mitigate all impacts related to range resources and agriculture. Mitigation must address: loss of forage from construction; lack of success in range reclamation; noxious weed invasions; range and grazing management complications; loss of access to water sources; division of grazing allotments; road closures; damage to existing fences; maintenance of fences; barriers to livestock movement; collisions between livestock and vehicles; and loss of forage, wildfire, ground disturbance, and livestock injury and mortality as a result of a severe transportation accident and the response to that accident.
Scenic resources. The DOE must evaluate and mitigate all impacts to scenic resources created by increased physical contrast, visible facilities, and the consequences of a severe transportation accident and the response to that accident. The mitigation measures must specifically address impacts upon views of, and views from, the Maiden's Grave.
Mitigation of impacts on the human environment
Cultural resources. Impacts on cultural resources must be thoroughly evaluated and disclosed, and mitigation must be provided. Mitigation must address, at a minimum: ground disturbance and soil erosion during construction, and related trampling, crushing, exposing, and covering of cultural resources; disturbance of archeological sites or fossils by purposeful or accidental actions of project employees; damage to or degradation of sacred Newe (i.e., Western Shoshone) sites; damage to or degradation of the historic Maiden’s Grave, Gravelly Ford, California Trail, Pony Express Trail, and other roads and trails; indirect effects on cultural resources of an economic downturn or fiscal impacts on local governments; damage to resources during emergency response; and damage to resources during a project-related wildfire.
Land ownership. The mitigation program for the proposed action must include just compensation for all private property and property rights taken by the DOE or anyone else associated with the action. The mitigation program must also address the secondary effects of such takings on the County’s economy, property tax revenues, and other tax revenues.
The DOE must consider and address the consistency of the proposed action with Eureka County’s master plan, which discourages conversions of private land to public ownership. Specifically, the mitigation program must incorporate transfers of federal lands to Eureka County, the Eureka County School District, and private property owners to offset the loss of property tax base from right-of-way acquisition, and to preserve ranching operations that would be divided or reduced in size by construction of the proposed rail line.
Regarding the potential for a serious transportation accident involving a SNF or HLW shipment, the DOE must evaluate, disclose, and mitigate any and all anticipated impacts on private property values, and provide just compensation for all affected property owners. Such a mitigation program must not depend on Congressional appropriations made after the accident, but must be fully funded up front.
Economy. The DOE must evaluate, disclose, and mitigate all anticipated economic impacts on Eureka County, including, at a minimum, impacts on: business recruitment and expansion; residential recruitment and retention; tourism and visitation; hunting and fishing; diminished real property values; loss of industrial productivity; loss of retail sales; and loss of livestock production.
The DOE must also address the economic impacts of a serious transportation accident, which would be similar to the economic impacts of an accident-free project, but far greater in magnitude. Again, the DOE must specifically address just compensation for devalued real property, fully funded up front.
Housing. The mitigation program must address the provision of adequate housing for all persons associated with the construction phase of the proposed action, as well as any secondary impacts on local residents due to a temporary housing shortage. Also, the DOE must pay the relocation expenses of temporarily and permanently displaced residents.
Mining and minerals. The DOE must evaluate, disclose, and mitigate all impacts on mining and minerals, especially including any withdrawal of mineral lands and purchases of mines or mineral claims in or adjacent to the proposed rail line right-of-way. The DOE must also address anticipated restrictions on mining access, temporary or permanent; operational complications related to conflicts between shipments of SNF and HLW and hazardous mining cargo; and potential labor supply problems that could result from an economic downturn or a transportation accident.
Infrastructure and public facilities. The proposed action must include complete mitigation for impacts on infrastructure and public facilities, including: impacts related to the disposal of solid and liquid wastes; impacts upon the Crescent Valley airport; road closures or divisions; traffic delays (including emergency response delays); impacts on schools and school bus routes; increased wear of State and County highways; and diminished levels of service on roads and highways. Regarding the risk of a severe transportation accident, the mitigation program must address potential damage to or contamination of roads, highways, schools, public buildings, equipment, the Crescent Valley water system, and the Crescent Valley airport.
Regarding proposed railroad terminal facilities near Beowawe, the DOE must consider, during its planning efforts, the potential demand for additional housing, utilities, and infrastructure; preferred locations of industrial enterprises; anticipated impacts on school enrollment and county services; the need for capital expenditures for water supply and wastewater treatment; and required revenues to pay for all additional costs when the rail line becomes operational. (Fletcher, 2001)
Given the lack of a landfill in northern Eureka County to accept solid waste from the construction phase of the proposed action, the DOE must obtain necessary permits and construct an appropriate facility. The facility would become County property upon completion of the construction phase, free from all liability, and with remaining capacity.
Public finance. The DOE must evaluate, disclose, and mitigate all anticipated impacts on the finances of Eureka County, the Eureka County School District, the towns of Eureka and Crescent Valley, and any special districts. The DOE must also determine who would be liable for a transportation accident--the DOE, a government contractor, electric utilities, or others.
Mitigation measures must address the County’s costs of emergency response and preparedness; the loss of taxes collected by the State of Nevada and distributed to the County; the loss of taxes and fees collected directly by the County; increased public facility maintenance costs; the costs of needed increases in public facility capacity; and the possibility of up-front payments of all project-related costs. Further, the mitigation program must address both accident-free and severe-accident scenarios.
Outdoor recreation. The mitigation program must also address anticipated impacts on outdoor recreation from access restrictions; diminished recreation revenues; the spread of noxious weeds; the introduction of pollutants and contaminants; and the loss of wildlife and hunting opportunities.
Public health and safety. In accordance with Eureka County’s previous comments (Eureka County, 2000) on the DEIS prepared for the proposed action, the mitigation program must include a special escrow fund for prompt and complete compensation of persons affected by routine shipments of SNF and HLW and by transportation accidents. Eureka County’s primary responsibility in relation to the proposed repository is to protect the health and safety of the residents of the County. The experience of County residents who were downwind of nuclear weapons tests in the 1950s and 1960s is directly applicable to the proposed action as well.
Upon initiation of the proposed action, the DOE must pay for a baseline health assessment by the affected local governments of all persons within the influence of the Carlin rail corridor, and all other corridors or routes that would be used. When a transportation accident and release of radioactivity occurs, residents must not be subjected to political, administrative, or budgetary delays in the evaluation and payment of claims. All claims must be evaluated against the baseline assessment and paid promptly from an escrow fund set up in advance, and fully funded from the start. This method must ensure that citizens exposed to radioactivity from transportation of SNF and HLW, or from an accident, will be compensated. An independent third party should administer the fund, with an initial endowment of $1 billion.
Further, the mitigation program must include compliance by the DOE and all contractors with community-right-to-know laws (e.g., SARA Title III) and related laws and regulations regarding the use, storage, and transportation of hazardous materials. Affected communities must have the authority and resources necessary to conduct independent oversight of all activities during the construction phase, during accident-free operations, and in response to accidents.
Noise, land use, and the quality of life. The DOE must identify, disclose, and mitigate all impacts on noise, land use, and the quality of life, including: construction noise, noise during operations; increased traffic on State and County roads; restrictions on community expansion; impacts related to splitting the Crescent Valley (and parcels and ranches within the Valley) into two parts; and degradation the overall quality of life and small town atmosphere. The mitigation program must specifically address the impacts of a severe transportation accident, resulting from such combined factors as a economic slowdown, image problems, public finance problems, natural resource damage, infrastructure damage, and numerous other impacts.
Emergency response and management. The DOE must examine, disclose, and mitigate all anticipated impacts on emergency response over the life of the proposed action. Local emergency response resources would be the first on the scene of any transportation accident involving a shipment of SNF or HLW through Eureka County. The DOE itself says (1999b), “As with any traffic accident, the local, Tribal, and State police, fire departments, and rescue squads are the first to respond to transportation accidents involving radioactive materials.”
The mitigation program must address, at a minimum, impacts from the lack of local emergency response capabilities. Such mitigation must include dedicated emergency response teams that would be immediately available within a short response time to the scene of an accident. Responsibility for emergency action must not be placed on the shoulders of volunteers.
If the proposed shipments of SNF and HLW through Eureka County were to become a reality, the County would propose to establish a strike force, housed at Beowawe, funded by the project proponents, and controlled by the affected local governments. All necessary facilities would be constructed by the DOE and would become County property upon their completion. Further, the DOE must hold the County harmless from any liability associated with the facilities.
Mitigation actions must also include technical and financial assistance for all phases of emergency management, including programs, funding, and training for preparedness, response, and recovery.
The mitigation measures must be specifically designed to reduce or eliminate foreseeable hazards from the operation of the proposed rail line. They must address hazards at rail crossings, during switching, when shipments are parked on sidings, and from trail derailments.
Environmental justice. Finally, the DOE must consider, evaluate, and mitigate potential impacts on those in the Eureka County community--including children, the elderly, and low-income persons--who would be least able to avoid or adjust to the impacts of a severe accident involving a shipment of SNF or HLW through the County, and a subsequent economic downturn.
In accordance with the County’s previous comments on the DEIS for the proposed repository (Eureka County, 2000), rural communities are dispersed, rather than concentrated. The DOE’s risk models are based on avoiding urban areas, and presume that risks should, therefore, be borne by rural people. Rural low-income populations received damaging doses of radiation in the 1950s and 1960s from above-ground and underground nuclear weapons tests conducted by the Atomic Energy Commission. The DOE must take these disproportionately high adverse impacts of its activities into consideration.