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Protesting more radioactive waste

Posted 4/26/16 (Tue)

By Amy Robinson
Farmer Staff Writer

McKenzie County residents packed the McKenzie County Commissioners meeting room on Tuesday, April 19, as they expressed their opposition to a proposal that would increase the level of radioactive waste being accepted at the Indian Hills Disposal (IHD) Solid Waste facility site on U.S. Highway 85, about five miles north of Alexander.
Currently, the landfill can only accept waste containing five picocuries per gram of radioactivity. But under a request by IHD Solids Management LLC, the level of accepted radioactive material would be increased to 50 picocuries per gram.
And the possibility of that 10-fold increase in the level of radioactive material being deposited in the landfill has county residents and county commissioners concerned.
“The lack of rigorous inspection and enforcement protocols and the fact that the McKenzie County Rural Water pipeline runs in the ditch right beside the facility on Indian Hills causes grave concerns for the well-being of our county residents and future generations,” stated Kathy Skarda, McKenzie County commissioner. “Communities with landfill facilities that have applied to accept higher radioactive material are Alexander - Indian Hills, Arnegard - Nuverra, and Keene - Old Republic (formerly Tervita). But ultimately, many more will be able to apply to the state for approval.”
Many of the waste byproducts produced during the oil and gas extraction and production process are radioactive. They contain varying concentrations of naturally-occurring radioactive materials (TENORM), which originate deep in the earth and can be mobilized upward by the liquids involved in the hydraulic fracturing (fracking) process. Such materials give off radiation, which can travel through the air, water, and even some solid materials, and pose serious risks to both human and environmental health.
The IHD Solids Management facility is the first facility in North Dakota to submit an application to the Department of Health to accept this waste. Currently, the only states that accept this kind of waste are Colorado and Idaho. However, a landfill northwest of Williston has recently applied as well.
“Larry Novak, our chairman, first heard about this application in January and he heard it was supposed to be located northwest of Williston,” stated B.J. Lindvig, vice chairman of the Tri Township board. “A couple of weeks later, he actually found out who the company was, where they were located, and what they were asking. The location of this plant is the main concern. This site to me is not a spot for radioactive waste to go into.”
Larry Novak, chairman of Tri Township, testified to the commissioners for about 15 minutes about his worry over the IHD location, which is in line with the highway, residents’ homes, and water pipelines that serve the surrounding communities.
“We needed to bring this to the forefront,” explained Novak. “We needed to have the county look at it, and we wanted to be on record. There are lots of rumors out there about this facility and the radioactive waste, and I don’t know what’s true anymore. But those are the things going on with this plant and now you guys are aware. We are just looking for some assistance and guidance from the county commissioners.”
“We are asking you to stand up and protect the residents of McKenzie County,” added Novak.
The courthouse meeting room was packed with residents from all over the county, many of them displaying  red and yellow signs opposing the radioactive waste.
“I’m Susan Perry and I’m from Stone Meadows, which is less than a mile to the south of the IHD facility,” stated Perry, a concerned resident. “There are 26 lots and since this has all happened, three are up for sale now. We have over 20 children there and some have just been born. This area has winds over 20 miles per hour, daily. They are jeopardizing our lives and our children’s lives.”
The county commissioners assured the Tri Township leaders and county residents that they would take the time to look into the matter further and participate in the North Dakota State Department of Health’s public comment period, which will take place in June or July.
“There will be a public meeting in June or July and that is our opportunity to participate in this process,” stated Vawnita Best, McKenzie County commissioner.
“We need to look it over and figure out our options,” stated Richard Cayko, McKenzie County Board of Commissioners chairman. “We still work for the people out here!”
Skarda added that she was very concerned about the county. She insisted that the county needs oversight by the state and the radioactive waste needs to be put in a location that is suitable - not by homes and water sources.
At this point, it is not clear what the county’s authority is in the application process of the radioactive landfill facility. The county previously granted the landfill a Conditional Use Permit (CUP), but because there is a change to the facility being requested, it’s unknown if the CUP will continue to stand as is, or if the county will have to go through the CUP process again.
Commissioner Doug Nordby said he planned on researching what local authority the county could have with regard to this situation and facility.
The North Dakota Department of Health has scheduled three educational sessions on radioactive waste for May 10, 11, and 12 in Dickinson, Watford City, and Williston. Residents are encouraged to attend one of the sessions  to learn more about technologically-enhanced, naturally-occuring radioactive material.
Once the health department reviews all of the applications, health officials will hold public hearings and accept comments.
“I believe this is an appropriate thing for the county to definitely look into,” concluded Jake Rodenbiker, McKenzie County State’s attorney.