Counties want voices heard

Pierce County scare puts nuclear waste on counties’ radar

Rebecca Leier with North Dakota Community Alliance speaks at the Elmer Jesme Conference of Counties meeting in Minot Monday while listening, from left, are Pierce County commissioners Mike Brossart, David Migler and Terry Hoffert.

Having stopped exploration for a nuclear waste landfill two years ago, Pierce County is on the forefront in pushing for state legislation ensuring local governments have a say in proposed high-level hazardous waste disposal.

“This is going to be hundreds of generations – if we have this in our state – that it will impact. So now is the time to have our voice be heard,” said Rebecca Leier with North Dakota Community Alliance, a group created to engage local communities with their elected governments. Leier lives just over two miles from the site that was to be explored for nuclear waste disposal in 2016 in Pierce County.

Leier and Pierce County commissioners David Migler, Terry Hoffert and Mike Brossart joined Reps. Jon Nelson, R-Rugby, and Dick Anderson, R-Willow City, in addressing the topic with other area county representatives at the Elmer Jesme Conference of Counties meeting in Minot Monday.

A Senate bill addressing high-level radioactive waste turned into a study resolution in the 2017 legislative session. A new bill draft coming out of a legislative interim committee doesn’t allow counties to prohibit nuclear waste disposal but only allows county regulation of size, scope and location.

The bill creates an advisory committee to include representatives of a county, city and the agricultural community. The committee would make recommendations to the Legislature or Industrial Commission.

Reps. Jon Nelson, left, and Dick Anderson talk about proposed hazardous waste legislation during the Elmer Jesme Conference of Counties meeting in Minot Monday.

“This seems to be a concession that lacks teeth – to say three of us would be on a committee,” Leier said. If it’s not a legislative year, a decision could be made by the Industrial Commission, which is more likely to listen to a powerful corporate entity as opposed to a few county commissioners, she said.

“I have a lot of objections with this proposal,” Nelson added. “The committee that’s talked about is advisory in nature. There’s a lot of advisory committees that are formed and they are feel good, but they don’t have any power. The county commission had the power to zone or give a permit for the exploration. That’s true power and that’s local control, which I think many of us would like to see.”

He added he also wants to see disposal companies communicate with local residents, who should have some ability to decide what is best for their particular area.

“That, I think, is important as we go forward,” he said.

Leier described the bill as a roadmap of the rules for companies coming into the state but noted it lacks important protections for the public. The alliance would like wording included that would require disposal companies proposing to buy or lease land to give public notice of land use at least a year before finalizing an agreement.

“What is going into that depository is unsafe, with a half life of maybe nine to 10 thousand years. So 12 months to cool our jets and educate our populace, that’s what we are asking,” Leier said.

Anderson pointed out the federal government has overriding jurisdiction on its property, which precludes counties having a say on these properties. The disposal isn’t the major concern, though, he said.

“The biggest hazard in doing anything like this is the transportation of the material,” Anderson said.

Nelson said legislative committees will be looking at amendments when they get the bill draft in the 2019 session.

“I think there’s some ability to work with this to make this bill palatable,” he said. But he added it will require more county involvement than the 2017 bill had.

“We need a larger group. There’s power in numbers, if nothing else, when it comes to some of the changes that are going to be proposed,” he said.

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