DALLAS – A bond-financed radioactive waste dump in Andrews County, Texas, must submit to an environmental hearing before it can begin operations, a state district judge in Austin has ruled.
The county that borders New Mexico in the Texas Panhandle issued $75 million of taxable general obligation bonds for the dump in 2010 with voter approval from the previous year. Dallas billionaire Harold Simmons and his company Waste Control Specialists sought the bond issue when they were unable to line up private funding. Simmons is a major contributor to Texas Gov. Rick Perry and other Republican officials.
The dump began receiving low-level nuclear waste April 27 after the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality approved the license in 2009. The 1,340-acre site takes radioactive waste from 38 states.
The Sierra Club filed a lawsuit when the TCEQ refused to hold a hearing on the matter. The environmental group believes the facility could contaminate air and groundwater and poses a risk in transit. The lawsuit also sought the testimony of two women who live nearby and were afraid of having their lives, homes and businesses adversely affected.
Marisa Perales, an attorney for the Sierra Club, argued Tuesday that the state environmental agency acted irresponsibly in approving the dump three years ago without holding a hearing on potential dangers.
Chuck McDonald, a spokesman for Waste Control Specialists, said the ruling by state district Judge Lora Livingston in Austin would be appealed as operations continue.
“We are confident that the license issued to WCS by the state of Texas will remain in place,” McDonald said in a statement.
No material event notices were filed concerning the bonds as of Thursday. Standard & Poor’s, which gives the bonds its A-rating retained a stable outlook.
The county is required to increase property taxes 33% if periodic lease payments for the dump are insufficient to pay debt service, according to S&P. The county is held harmless over environmental lawsuits, according to analysts.
With a population of 13,000, oil and gas-rich Andrews County has little debt, and would be required to provide $5 million in debt service, an increase of 20%, if the company fails to provide lease payments.
“We believe the county’s $75 million debt issuance is a large debt issuance for a county that has historically been debt averse, and it does not currently levy a property tax for debt service,” S&P analysts wrote.
Legislation approved in 2011 allowed the dump to begin receiving radioactive waste from other states. Under previous legislation Andrews County earns 5% of the revenue from the site, and the state gets 5%. County revenues are estimated at $3 million to $4 million per year in 2011.