Testimony of Pete Goicoechea
My name is Pete Goicoechea and I am the chairman of the Board of Eureka County Commissioners. I am here today on behalf of the Eureka County Commission to make some preliminary comments on the adequacy of the draft Environmental Impact Statement.
I want to thank the Department of Energy for holding EIS hearings in Crescent Valley. We appreciate the DOE's willingness to hold hearings in the vicinity of the impacts in our county.
Today it is my intent to provide some basic comments. We plan to submit detailed written comments by the deadline of February 9, 2000.
Eureka County is one of the ten "affected' units of local government under Section 116 of the Nuclear Waste Policy Act as amended. While the Eureka County Commission has not taken a formal position on the Yucca Mountain project, we are very concerned about the impacts that a proposed rail route could have on our county. We are especially concerned that this EIS, the impact identification document, does not identify those impacts.
The EIS makes clear that DOE intends to make a decision on the mode and route of transportation based only on the information in this EIS. Therefore, we believe that the EIS ought to have adequate information for all routes so that an informed decision could be made. That information is lacking in this EIS.
Impacts of building the rail line in Eureka County
The EIS states that DOE intends to make a decision which mode (rail, truck, or heavy-haul) and route based on this information. Based on the limited information presented in this document, such a decision would not be an informed one because there is so little information about the routes, the communities they travel through, and even DOE's concepts for operating a rail line.
What's missing in the EIS? Almost everything practical that we need to know about a proposed rail line. Who will own it? Who will operate it? Who will own the track? Who will own the land under the track? Will it be fenced? Who repairs the fencing? Who makes repairs to the rail line? How many at grade crossings are contemplated? Underpasses? Overpasses? How will ranchers get to their cattle if the allotment is bisected? Will there be an access road next to the rail line? 59% of the assessed parcels in Eureka County are within ten miles of the proposed route. The proposed route is within five miles of the second largest population center in Eureka County. The EIS makes little mention of impacts on people. It does not adequately address the effects of building and operating a rail line on or near private property, and does not address the possible stigma effects on property values.
In our review of the DEIS in relation to the on-the-ground knowledge that we have of our county, we have some major concerns. The flood plain information is not complete, and does not acknowledge the severe flooding problems in the vicinity of the proposed rail route in Eureka County. The assurance on page 6-47 that "the operation of a branch line would stop during conditions that could lead to the flooding of track areas and would not resume until DOE had made necessary repairs" raises more questions than it answers. Where would the trains sit waiting for the repairs to take place? For how long? How will flash floods be detected in time to stop the shipment, and where?
The EIS does not have adequate information about the impacts on grazing. The EIS states that fencing decisions rest with the Bureau of Land management and U.S. Fish and Wildlife. The information on fencing is not definitive, and excludes local government, the local community, and affected livestock operations from input.
Emergency Management and Response
The Draft EIS is inadequate in its analysis of local government demands related to public health and safety. The county will be submitting detailed comments in this area as well. The EIS does not address the emergency management and response and emergency medical needs and costs that a nuclear waste rail line would require. There does not appear to be analysis or discussion of the potential activities and costs needed during all phases of emergency management and response including preparedness, response, and recovery.
Alternate Highway Routes
The EIS is also insufficient because it does not consider the possibility of roads other than interstates being the routes for nuclear waste transportation to Yucca Mountain. The study done by the Nevada Dept of Transportation several years ago indicated that likely routes could be the "A" or "B" routes, both of which run south from Wendover to Ely on the way to Yucca Mountain. If either of those were ultimately designated, Eureka County could be a host for alternate routing, either I-80 in the north or Highway 50 in the south. The EIS does not address alternate routing in the event of accidents, construction or weather, and it should.
Need for Baseline Health Data
In November of 1995, Eureka County submitted scoping comments to the Department of Energy, suggestion issues that should be covered in the EIS. One of our themes was the need for baseline health data along with a method of compensation which would ensure that the victims are compensated in a timely manner for their exposure. This was not adequately addressed in the EIS.
The EIS provides little analysis of the impacts of a release of radioactivity in the Humboldt River, which is crossed many times by the rail line and paralleled by the interstate. The EIS also does not analyzed the impacts of nuclear waste transportation, over decades, on the existing rail and highways within Nevada's borders, but not new construction.
Military Airspace Impacts
Also absent from the EIS is an adequate analysis of the cumulative impacts and potential conflicts from military airspace practice areas (ranges) and the rail route.
The Eureka County Commission believes that DOE's environmental impact statement is inadequate and incomplete. We believe that the information in the current document is not adequate and should not be used of itself as a decision making tool for selection of modes and routes for transportation. The lack of mitigation in the document indicates that DOE does not truly understand the magnitude of the impacts of this major project. The cumulative impacts analysis lacks the depth that we would expect from such a large government project, likely to span many generations.
We expect that DOE will revise this EIS significantly to address the deficiencies, and to provide the level of detail needed for informed decision making.