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Posted 10/11/17 (Wed)

By Neal A. Shipman
Farmer Editor

The McKenzie County Commissioners were well within their rights last week to fire off a rather testy letter to the State Health Department expressing their concerns over a radioactive waste site that is proposed to be built in the county.
According to this week’s front page story, 18 months ago Jim Talbert, McKenzie County Planning and Zoning director, received information from an engineering firm that it was searching for a location for a Radioactive Waste Facility in McKenzie County. Then less than two weeks ago, Talbert and the county commissioners received information stating that the Health Department had granted a contract to the company, Waste Management, to build a radioactive waste facility in Twin Valley Township after the agency had posted an open commenting period which ended on Oct. 6.
The Health Department followed the “letter of the law” by running the legal notice asking for public comment.
But in fairness, the Health Department should have gone the extra step of keeping the McKenzie County Commissioners well informed at each and every step of the permitting process.
No one, especially the county commissioners, likes to have something sprung on them as serious as is a radioactive waste facility.
And apparently that is the position that the county commissioners and the county planning and zoning department is now in as they are seeing a public hearing on the proposed waste facility.
The county has some very valid concerns when it comes to this proposed radioactive waste facility.
Among their concerns are the vagueness within the Radiation Safety Manual when it comes to dealing with spills and accidents or on how the site will be monitored. Furthermore, the commissioners stated their disappointment that neither the county’s emergency manager nor the district fire chief had been contacted to review plans and contingencies for any fire or emergencies at the facility.
Part of the problem has to do with who is responsible for the permitting process of a radioactive waste facility, which is the State Department of Health, which follows their established guidelines.
Granted, the state did everything by the book. But in this case, doing everything by the book shouldn’t mean leaving the people of McKenzie County, especially the county commissioners, out in the dark. Or that the commissioners would hear from representatives from Waste Management that the company anticipated that construction on the facility would begin in less than two weeks and that the facility would be functional by the end of the month.
One has to wonder where the dialogue between the state and the county was?
Now the McKenzie County Commissioners are in the position where they are asking the state for more time to review the plans and requesting the Dept. of Health to hold a public hearing in the county. And “Waste Management did have a safety plan which was wonderful, we applaud that plan,” said Talbert. “But, we were disappointed in the lack of an emergency response plan.”
Will a public hearing answer the questions that people living near the new radioactive waste site have? Will a hearing provide the county commissioners with the information that they need to be able to answer to those citizens that elected them?
Let’s hope so.