Representatives of CPS Energy, which has invested $276 million in a possible two-plant expansion of the South Texas (nuclear) Project, were in the audience for a February 5 brown-bag lunch with Edwards Aquifer Authority board member and noted hydrologist George Rice. The packed room was filled out by a number of locals interested in making sure that expansion never occurs.
The topic: “in-situ” uranium mining, a method of extraction developed a few decades ago in which oxygen-rich water is pumped into uranium-rich formations contained in underground aquifers. It’s been happening at the Kingsville Dome outside Kingsville, Texas, for 20 years, and soon it may come to Goliad County, as well. `See “Undermining South Texas,” October 3, 2007.` The process essentially jiggles the sedentary uranium molecules loose into the water column, where they can be pumped out and separated from the water and other minerals aboveground before the remaining water is pumped back underground — oftentimes well below the aquifer through deep waste-disposal wells.
Several families live around the Uranium Resources Inc. well field outside Kingsville, but so far no radioactive pollution has reached nearby drinking wells. “Contrary to what many of the residents believe, to date there is no evidence that any of these wells have been affected,” said Rice.
But that doesn’t mean the practice is safe or well monitored, Rice cautioned, because current regulations are far from protective of people and the environment. For starters, not a single in-situ uranium mine in Texas has been required to restore mined waters to pre-mining purity as state law mandates. One after another they’ve been exempted by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.
Following the cleanup phase, the groundwater once more begins flowing in its original direction, which in the case of Kingsville Dome is toward the city of Kingsville’s drinking-water pumps. Not only have TCEQ Commissioners consistently allowed mining companies to opt out of proper cleanups, current regulations only require the polluted groundwater plumes to be monitored for a period of six months.
Rice suggested that beneath the Kingsville Dome, where water has been tracked flowing anywhere from a few feet to several hundred feet per year, monitoring guidelines should require companies to keep watch over their polluted remains for at least five years. Anytime an “excursion” of polluted water breaks the ring of monitoring wells, TCEQ should automatically require five more years of monitoring, he said.
Interestingly, when the CPS Board of Directors made its initial $216-million investment for so-called site study and design of the proposed STP expansion last year, it was the testimony from South Texas residents concerned about uranium-mine pollution in their aquifers that gave some CPS employees — apparently immune to nuclear cost or disposal concerns — pause.
For more about those fighting the expansion of uranium mining in Texas, visit the Alliance of Texans for Uranium Research and Action, uraniuminfo.org.
MLK rolls in grave?
Eastside residents and park advocates opposed to the sale of Healy-Murphy Park gathered at the site Saturday morning to collect signatures, an activity they’ll continue at Thursday’s public meeting at the Little Carver Civic Center, where the City plans to unveil the draft request for bids. Citizens will have a chance to comment on proposed restrictions attached to the sale (a historic building sits on the lot) and question municipal reps about the process: How many signatures will it take to force a vote on the sale (1,500, or more?), and how soon can they start collecting those names.
Any signatures gathered now likely won’t count toward the number opponents need to force a vote on the issue if City Council decides to proceed with the sale, but members of the coalition formed to save and rehabilitate the park say they need to stop the silent auction before it even gets to council with a show of community solidarity.
“Council is not going to vote against what somebody in the district wants” said Nettie Hinton, a member of the Dignowity Hill Neighborhod Association. District 2 Councilwoman Sheila McNeil initiated the park’s sale after receiving a query about the lot from a developer’s office in the fall of 2007 and continues to push the idea as a way to bring more economic development to the neighborhood.
So it’s a problem that time may solve (read: three months). Two of at least five candidates for May’s District 2 election have announced their opposition to the sale. “I believe that it should remain a park,” said Merced Housing Director of Resident Services Ivy Taylor, who nonetheless added that she’ll be listening at Thursday night’s meeting for any info that could change her mind. “In an ideal world, it would remain a park, and an improved park.”
In a prepared statement rich with cinematic and biblical reference that we can’t reprint in its entirety here, candidate Ron Wright suggested, “Councilwoman McNeil, prior to your exiting City Hall, it’s not too late to open up and talk to the citizens of this district regarding the sale of Healy-Murphy Park. Being human means we are all prone to mistakes ... but let’s correct this one prior to giving another substantial portion of our district away.”
The Current was unable to reach San Antonio Crime Coalition’s Dan Martinez, Reverend Bryant Livingston, or insurance broker and EAA board member Byron Miller before deadline, but Hinton says Miller has been a member of the Dignowity Association, which passed a resolution against the sale, “even before he ostensibly resided in the district ... he had joined because his business office was down in St. Paul Square.”
That perked up the QueQue’s ears, of course, because we reported last month on Wright’s charge that Miller still doesn’t really live in the (purported) home-office he rents in the district, but just outside it with his (ex)wife. Wright has since filed a formal ethics complaint with the City. The QueQue has been equally concerned that Wright claimed that St. Paul Square office as his residence for EAA’s District 2 when he first was appointed to fill and then was elected to that seat. The state rules on residency seem to be worded more strictly — a recipe for the kind of fudge QueQue doesn’t like.
Elisa Chan for mayor?
Not this time around, of course, but the list of supporters for District 9 candidate Elisa Chan’s February 17 fundraising reception is a San Antonio dream team of business and political leaders, suggesting that if she performs well on council, her local political future could be long and bright. Just a partial name-drop: former Valero CEO and Haven for Hope co-founder Bill Greehey and his NuStar PAC, Red McCombs, Ed Whitacre, developer “advocates” Frank Burney, Ken Brown, and Daniel Ortiz, the Feiks of DPT Laboratories fame, roofer and treasurer for our current and (most likely) future mayor Mike Beldon, and County Judge Nelson Wolff, whose son Kevin vacated the seat last year for the Commissioners Court. Tracy Wolff is her treasurer. Chan, who with her husband owns and operates Unintech Consulting Engineers, has demonstrated that she’s willing to play well with current leadership priorities: She chaired a subcommittee of the Cultural Facilities committee for last spring’s venue-tax initiative, and promoted the 2007 bond initiative by working with the Foundation for the Future campaign. She’s also credited with more-or-less singlehandedly reviving the Alamo Asian American Chamber of Commerce.
Lobbying the lege
Much like Joni Mitchell, Queque has looked at life from both sides now. We spent last Wednesday hanging out with State Senator Leticia Van de Putte, watching as she took office meetings with reps from the KIPP Academy, Voices for Children, and Retama Park to hear about their needs. The next morning, we heard City Council trumpet the legislative priorities they’re pitching to Van de Putte and her colleagues.
Number one on the city’s wish list is the Military Installation Protection Act, which would enable the county to protect military missions at Camp Bullis. Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon has filed this bill in the Texas House and Van de Putte has talked about doing the same in the Senate.
City priorities that would seem to face longer odds in the lege include a get-tough-on-graffiti bill (a favorite of District 5’s Lourdes Galvan, who has even pushed to crack down on people who sell spray paint) and funding for a Sports Event Trust Fund, an idea that is currently languishing in the House.
One of the more contentious lege-related discussions last week involved the Fire & Police Pension Fund, which has recently gone the way of most of our 401k plans, dropping from $2.2 billion to $1.6 billion. The Pension Fund governing board is pushing a series of employee-benefit changes that would add $11.4 million to the Fund’s $254 million unfunded liability, a risky recession-era move that met with a thumbs-down from City staff. Ultimately, the Council approved the suggested legislative amendment, under the proviso that all they were doing was kicking it up to the Capitol for consideration by the State Legislature. “These are trying times,” said District 7 Councilman Justin Rodriguez, who couldn’t resist joking: “This all started when Councilman `Phil` Cortez was appointed to the Pension Board.” •