Residents uneasy about borehole project

Farm Forum

REDFIELD — Residents of Spink County were told in another tense, public meeting on May 11 in Redfield that they have the guarantees from both the U.S. Department of Energy and Gov. Dennis Daugaard that no nuclear waste would come to South Dakota without a public vote.

Nathan Sanderson, state director of policy and operations, said Daugaard has, in every occasion, said a public vote is required before any decisions are made.

“You’ve got every member of the community here and you’ve got the legislature to hold him to that,” Sanderson said.

Yet many residents are not sold that the government won’t go against the will of the Spink County people, despite believing that the officials representing the project at the meeting have the best intentions at heart.

One of those residents is Jason Banister.

“This is more directed at all my neighbors here — we’ve been sitting here talking about this, and talking about all these different things. We’re talking in circles. I mean, the rhetoric is amazing here. But we’re missing the point, and the point is trust,” Banister told his fellow residents.

“I believe you may have the best intentions on doing scientific study and I’m all for that, but the federal government is involved with it. And personally, I’m not sure enough that they won’t step in at some point if this looks favorable, or even sort of favorable, and just dump what they want down these holes. I have family here. My livelihood is the land. Yours is, too. You can’t guarantee the safety of the water — you can’t guarantee anything. No one here can guarantee us, or offer a contract or anything in writing saying that the federal government won’t come in here and take over.”

More than 200 people came to the meeting. When a resident asked those who were opposed to the project to raise their hands, the majority of arms shot up.

“I think the meeting went well. When they had a show of hands, it should have told them that it is not wanted in Spink (County),” said Tulare resident Jamie Fisk, who is opposed to the project.

Francis Schaffer, a business owner in Redfield, said he was told by his brother and father long ago to never have an opinion on anything controversial, because it would be “bad for business.” Yet he did agree with other commenters that the project isn’t worth putting a division between Spink County residents.

Spink County Planning and Zoning Director Tim Reinbold said there has been no application submitted for the project as of the afternoon of May 12.

This was the third public meeting to discuss plans to site a borehole drilling field test with plans to drill 3.2 miles into the granite beneath Spink County, a project which would mimic a nuclear waste disposal method. The test would extract core samples of the granite and test whether or not a straight hole could be drilled more than three miles deep into the ground. Drilling the first 8.5-inch hole would cost $35 million. If the first drilling is successful, a second 17-inch hole would be drilled.

Drilling both holes would cost $80 million. The money to fund drilling of a second hole has yet to be appropriated to the Department of Energy’s annual budget, according to William Boyle, director of the Office of Used Nuclear Fuel Disposition for the U.S. Department of Energy.

Spink County residents have vocally opposed the drilling field test at all three meetings.

He also emphasized that this project is not about storing nuclear waste, but about research.

“I don’t know that I can provide you any more iron-clad guarantee than that. If the citizens of Spink County and your county commissioners say, ‘No, thank you, we appreciate the opportunity, but we’ll pass,’ the governor is going to absolutely support that,” Sanderson said.

Residents asked representatives from the Department of Energy and Battelle who would be liable if the aquifer in Spink County were contaminated by the drilling. Battelle is the company in charge of the drilling.

Boyle said there is no chance of contamination.

Rod Osborne, manager of energy at Battelle, said the hole to be drilled 3.2 miles below the ground would be sealed to prevent any contamination of Spink County’s aquifer.

David Migler, chairman of the Pierce County Commission in North Dakota, spoke out during the meeting to say that when Battelle Memorial Institute and the Department of Energy proposed to use their county as the site of a borehole drilling field test, the commissioners listened to the consensus of their residents and voted to oppose the project.

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