DALLAS — A radioactive waste dump financed with taxable general obligation bonds in Andrews County, Texas, is beginning to produce revenue for the county and the state, nine years after lawmakers authorized the controversial site.
Dallas-based Waste Control Specialists, which runs the disposal site in a remote section of West Texas on the New Mexico border, paid the county $630,000 and the state $3.4 million as part of an agreement after the Texas Legislature authorized the company to store toxic waste from other states. HB 1567 passed in 2003 was crafted for Texas financier Harold Simmons, a prominent donor to Republican causes.
On Sept. 8, 2009, WCS was granted its final license to dispose of low-level radioactive waste by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. When backers of the dump were unable to arrange private financing, they turned to Andrews County voters, who approved $75 million of taxable general obligation bonds in 2010. Construction of the disposal facility began that year.
The 30-year bonds, rated A by Standard & Poor’s and AA-minus by Fitch Ratings, would require the county to levy a property tax of 15 cents per $100 value if revenues from the waste dump do not cover the $5 million annual debt service. Currently, the county does not tax property.
“In our view, the county’s willingness to support a tax increase of this magnitude is untested,” S&P noted in its 2010 ratings report.
“This community put its faith in our company,” Waste Control Specialists chief executive William Lindquist said in a prepared statement when presenting the first payment earlier this month. “There would be no Texas Solution — no Texas Compact Disposal Facility — without the leadership and citizens of Andrews County.”
Andrews County’s top 10 taxpayers include some of the largest oil and gas corporations representing almost 50% of the tax base. Exxon Mobil Corp. accounts for 14%, according to Fitch.
Waste Control Specialists lost $38 million last year and has lost money in each of the last five years, according to the company’s annual report. WCS is part of Valhi Inc. Simmons, a pioneer in leveraged buyouts who was known for funding the Swift Boat attacks on Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry in 2004, stands to make inroads into radioactive waste with the West Texas site.