Surface Transportation Board to Hold Public Meeting in Conejos, Colorado, on Thursday, February 17th

February 11, 2011

The Surface Transportation Board, a division of the federal Department of Transportation, will hold a public meeting in Conejos, Colorado, on Thursday, February 17th to hear public comments about the petition of the San Luis and Rio Grande Railroad for an exemption from local land use laws. In November 2009, the Railroad began a truck to rail transfer operation on a rail spur south of Antonito. But as soon as the Conejos County officials were notified, the operation was "red-tagged" because the necessary permits were not in place. The transfer involved waste contaminated with PCBs, depleted uranium, low-level radioactive materials, and solvents from Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), which was destined for the EnergySolutions disposal site 75 miles west of Salt Lake City.

The issue may be moot because the Conejos County Commissioners denied the land use permit application in December 2010, and the time for appeal has expired.

The public meeting will take place at the Parish Hall of Our Lady of Guadalupe, 6631 County Road 13, in Conejos, Colorado, beginning at 10 am. Conejos is six miles north of the Colorado - New Mexico border. The meeting is an opportunity for local residents to provide public comments. The Board agreed to hold a public meeting in Conejos because the Conejos County Clean Water, Inc. (CCCW), a non-governmental organization, explained in its extensive written comments that Conejos County is the poorest county in Colorado with a median income of $24,744, which makes it almost impossible for people to travel to Washington, DC, to participate in the proceeding.

Andrea Guajardo, a CCCW Board member, said, "CCCW is concerned with the health and environmental impacts of the radioactive, hazardous and toxic waste transfer; therefore, we have promoted fair public process. It is rare for the Surface Transportation Board to hold field hearings, so we are thrilled that the staff will be travelling from Washington, DC, to hear public comments."

For more information about the public meeting, please visit, Docket No. FD 35380.

In related news, settlement talks are on-going between the Department of Energy, which owns LANL, and the non-governmental organizations that sued in November because a site-specific environmental review was not done for the transfer operation. Further, they were not notified about the reviews that were conducted about the transfer operations, as required by the National Environmental Policy Act. The organizations are CCCW, the San Luis Valley Ecosystem Council, and Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety

Jeff Parsons, an attorney representing the groups, said, "There's hope that something can be resolved in short order."

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