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Borehole Project Gets Public Meetings

By Staff | Feb 19, 2016

Mary Hager, Wells County Commissioner asked a number of questions regarding location of the boreholes and expressed that she is looking out for the future generations.

City of Rugby and Pierce County officials held informational meetings for the public to answer questions about the proposed borehole project south of Rugby.

Not all in the public were enthused by the proposal.

On Tuesday morning at Dakota Farms in Rugby, the Pierce County Commission met in a public session with John Harju, vice president for strategic partnerships for the University of North Dakota’s Energy & Environmental Research Center; Rod Osborne, energy business line infrastructure and environment manager at the Battelle Memorial Institute; Andrew Griffith, U.S. Department of Energy; and State Geologist Ed Murphy.

Harju said the project was funded by the Department of Energy to “generically” test and drill boreholes as an investigation into the feasibility of storing nuclear waste materials and other applications in basement rock. The project would involve first drilling an 8.5″ hole 16,000 feet deep. The success of the first hole would then move on to phase two, in which a 17″ hole would be drilled. Harju said the project is expected to cost $80 million, however the Dept. of Energy has only funded $35 million for the first test hole.

Harju said that if permits had been applied for, drilling could start in September 2016, however Harju said no permits have been filed with Pierce County, the State Board of University & School Trust Lands, and the N.D. Department of Transportation.

Griffith said that no nuclear waste would be deposited in the hole during the proposed project.

Commission Chairman Dave Migler asked if an environmental assessment had been done for the project, and if other sites had been considered for the project.

Rugby resident Tom Childress said that during the course of his cancer treatment as well as medical test he had accrued radiation, and asked at what level of radiation would the area be safe. Griffith said he too had been exposed to radiation due to service on a nuclear submarine, and that no nuclear materials would be put into the ground during the test.

Wells County Commissioner Mary Hager asked why the Pierce County Commission wasn’t informed about the proposed project sooner (Commissioners Migler and Duane Johnston attended the January University and School Trust Lands meeting) and whether or not other counties, including Wells, was included in potential borehole disposal plans.

“You have no guarantee nuclear waste won’t be dumped in this area 20, 30 years from now,” Hager said.

Rugby resident Stephanie Steinke said, “If the project is all about science, at what point will the Dept. of Energy turn back to the science?” Steinke alluded to an October meeting of the Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board in which a scientist said waste would need to be put where the hole was drilled. Griffith said there were several persons at the October meeting who thought they knew what the plans were on the proposed project and made assumptions.

Area resident Christie Jaeger, who studied environmental geology at UND, said the public needs to appreciate the presenters.

Area resident Brad Jacobs, who lives within a mile of the proposed site, said his biggest concern was that the presenters “had blinders on” by saying it was purely a science project, and also said the U.S. government had been sued regarding nuclear waste disposal. Griffith said the government is looking for a “durable solution”.

“My last challenge to you is to continue holding us accountable,” Griffith said.

McHenry County resident Katherine Volochenko asked that if Pierce County were approved for waste disposal, how much would be brought in and how it would be transported. Griffith said he did not want to speculate hypothetical volume and that the site wouldn’t be in the conversation if the community doesn’t want it.

Pierce County resident Dallas Hager asked if there was a better way than borehole disposal. Griffith said that in the past studies had been done about putting waste in a volcano, the Sun and in the Mariana Trench but found that geologic disposal was less risky.

Area resident Chuck Volk asked if the goal of getting consent for the project was to get the community polarized. At a city meeting Thursday, Volk also questioned why the project was being considered if nuclear waste disposal is forbidden via the N.D. Century Code without approval by local governments and the Legislature. Griffith said dialog was encouraged and that Pierce County “did the right thing” by putting a moratorium on deep well drilling in place.

Pierce County Water Board member Duane Hawk asked if the project would run into any aquifers. Harju said they expect to run into a number of freshwater bodies during drilling.

Rugby resident and business owner Sue Steinke asked who and when in the city or county was first contacted. Harju said that Rugby mayor Arland Geiszler had been contacted about the project in mid-January. Sue also asked when was North Dakota’s Congressional delegation briefed on the project, to which Harju said the same day the EERC found out the Dept. of Energy selected the Battelle-led team to do the project.

Steinke also said the wrong department at UND was looking at the project and that the aerospace department should look into shooting waste into the Sun.

“Shame on UND for bringing anything associated with nuclear waste to North Dakota,” Steinke said.

Minot resident and county landowner Cindy Rieder-Wilhelm issued concerns with the project along with the building of a vitrification plant for cesium-strontium capsules in Hanford, Wash., and the closure of the storage facility in Yucca Mountain.

“Who’s to say it’s not going to be just a hole to us,” Rieder-Wilhelm said.

Ramsey County Commissioner Mark Olson said the “consensus” around the area is that the project won’t involve drilling and abandoning an $80 million hole.

Watford City resident David Johnson urged citizens of Pierce County to be cooperative.

At last week’s city council meeting, Job Development Authority Director Joseph Pelt asked what the economic impact of the proposed project would be. Osborne said that most services needed for the project would be targeted locally and that several million dollars could be assumed in impact.

Harju made a presentation and presented a letter from former N.D. governor and UND Interim President Ed Schaefer (ran page A4 of last week’s Tribune).

Rugby banker Rusty Gebhardt said that residents at the meeting were “talking to the wrong people”.

Geiszler said it is important for area residents to be concerned about the project.

Harju said the disposal residents worried about was precluded under state law.

An open house was held Monday afternoon at Cobblestone Inn in Rugby to answer questions regarding the project.

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