Community Members Ask Surface Transportation Board to Protect Rio Grande Headwaters

February 18, 2011

Nearly 90 people attended the all-day Surface Transportation Board public meeting February 17 in Conejos, Colorado, to express their concerns 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 of contaminated wastes from Los Alamos National Laboratory, which was destined for the EnergySolutions disposal site 75 miles west of Salt Lake City. But as soon as the Conejos County officials were notified, the operation was "red-tagged" because the necessary permits were not in place. The Railroad then filed for an exemption from local land use laws.

The majority of the speakers opposed the request that the Board grant an exemption for a number of reasons, including the need to protect the headwaters of the Rio Grande. The proposed truck to rail transfer point is located just 250 feet from the San Antonio River, one of the headwaters of the Rio Grande.

Marian Naranjo, of Honor Our Pueblo Existence, based at Santa Clara Pueblo, said, "The main reason I attended the meeting was to support the voices of the community to protect our headwaters from potential dangers of transporting nuclear waste."

The Board agreed to hold a rare public meeting in Conejos. They sent three staff members and a court reporter to document the comments. The Railroad and EnergySolutions made presentations that focused on the economic reasons for granting the exemption.

A meeting transcript will soon be posted on the Board's website. Use the "Enhanced Search" function for Docket No. FD 35380 - San Luis & Rio Grande Railroad - Petition for Declaratory Order. Public comments are due on March 1 either through e-filing on the Board's website or by mailing an original and 10 copies to the Board's office located at 395 E Street, SW, Washington, DC 20423-0001. You must also send or email a copy to the Railroad's attorney to his mailing address, John D. Heffner, PLLC, 1750 K Street, NW, Suite 200, Washington, DC 20006 or to his email address at < >. The Railroad will have until March 15 to file its response. The Board will make a decision soon thereafter.

The Conejos County Attorney, Stephane Atencio, spoke in favor of local regulation. He said that the applicants for the special use permit admitted that leaks and spills would occur during the operations, which could result in contamination of the river. Atencio stated that in order to protect "our land, our water, and our people," state and local laws must regulate the operations.

One of the youngest commenters was seven-year-old Javi Guajardo. He wanted to submit a picture he had drawn showing "Reference Man," the five-foot, seven inch tall, 20 to 30 year-old Anglo male, weighing 154 pounds, who serves as the basis for U.S. radiation standards, in comparison with himself, a four foot tall, Hispanic weighing 50 pounds, and his two-year old baby brother, Migui, who is two feet tall, also a Hispanic male, weighing 25 pounds. Guajardo told the Board staff, "I asked my Mom if I could speak. She said yes. I drew this picture to protect our health."

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Other articles about the meeting are available at:

Pueblo Chieftain:

Alamosa News:

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