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Monday, May 08, 2006

Skull Valley Deadline

By John Valentine
President of the Utah Senate

Today is the deadline for public comment on the proposed – and aptly named – Skull Valley nuclear waste storage site.

Please write your letter and get it postmarked today. You may also send a fax (801- 977-4397) or E-mail (pam_schuller@blm.gov).

Here’s mine. Feel free to make it yours too.

(Special thanks to Senator Hatch, Governor Huntsman, the DEQ, Howard Stephenson, Congressman Matheson and the Utah blogging community for providing helpful information.)

Pam Schuller
Bureau of Land Management
Salt Lake City Field Office
2370 South 2300 West
Salt Lake City, Utah 84119

Re: Private Fuel Storage Proposed Lease and Right of Way.

Dear Ms. Schuller:

I would like to add my voice to the rest of the citizens of the state of Utah, in opposing the proposed site of an intermodal transfer point on BLM land on the North side of Interstate 80 near Timpie, Utah.

Although I share the grave concerns expressed by many Utahans about the so called “temporary storage” in Skull Valley, I am particularly concerned about this proposed site on BLM land and its attendant rights-of-way.

Road Issues and Safety Concerns

Casks of hazardous spent nuclear fuel will be stored in plain view of I-80 while awaiting onward transportation to PFS’ storage site in Skull Valley. Waste-castes would be transferred to huge slow-moving trucks which would then proceed at 20 MPH under I-80 and along the Skull Valley Road to the proposed PFS site. This situation presents an open invitation for terrorist attack. No security provisions have been identified by PFS and no known emergency plan is in place. This is unbelievably irresponsible and creates an unacceptable environment for officials responsible for the safety of motorists, and residents.

I am also concerned about the height problems with proceeding under the freeway and the load carrying capacity of the Skull Valley Road. The road was not engineered or built to handle the heavy loads required by these waste trucks along this route. I understand these transports are 150 to 180 feet long and 12 feet wide, making normal wide-load trucks look small by comparison. SR 196 is a narrow two-lane public road varying from 20 to 24 feet in width, often without a shoulder.

An additional safety concern is that Skull Valley Road is the main route to Dugway Proving Ground, and is one of three emergency evacuation routes for the chemical weapons incinerator in Tooele Valley. What happens when an emergency mass evacuation is necessary and the road is blocked by huge trucks carrying nuclear waste? This very possible scenario would be comical if it weren’t so absolutely disastrous and tragic.

The off-load point on land over which BLM has stewardship would be located on the mud flat/wetland area of Stansbury Bay of the Great Salt Lake. This area has standing water during flood years which should further disqualify this site for its proposed use.

Pony Express Resource Management Plan

I understand that the BLM’s Pony Express Resource Management Plan for this specific area states,
“Public land will not be made available for inappropriate uses such as storage or use of hazardous materials (munitions, fuel, chemicals, etc.) and live artillery firing.”
I anticipate the BLM will exercise fidelity to its own RMP and deny the permit sought by PFS.

The Federal Land Management Policy Act (FLPMA - BLM’s organic statute for managing public lands) directs that in
“designating right-of-way corridors and in determining whether to require that rights-of-way be confined to them, [BLM] shall take into consideration national and State land use policies, environmental quality, economic efficiency, national security, safety, and good engineering and technological practices.”
FLPMA further directs that each right-of-way permit contain terms and conditions to protect Federal property and economic interests, protect lives and property, and otherwise protect the public interest in the lands traversed by the right-of-way or adjacent to them.

PFS is a shell company. It has no independent assets. There is no decommissioning plan for the intermodal facility, nor any requirement for funds to be set aside to deal with accidents, abandoned casks, etc., at the proposed intermodal facility or the rail corridor. PFS’ ridiculous “plan” for dealing with leaking casks is to ship them back over the proposed right-of-way to the nuclear power plant!

Given the requirements of the Pony Express Management Plan, the directives of FLPMA, and PFS’s fundamental inability to mitigate danger or guarantee safety, the BLM must deny the application for a transfer point and right-of-way across these lands.

Department of Defense Study

Our congressmen report that in 2005, BLM officials said that agency approval for the rights-of-way would not be given until the Department of Defense has studied the impact of any such land-use changes on nearby military facilities. This study is required under Section 2815 of the FY2000 National Defense Authorization Act. To date, the Department has not yet begun its study. Therefore, I believe the BLM is prohibited from amending its Pony Express RMP and granting the rail-spur right-of-way until the study is finished.

Cedar Mountain Wilderness Area

The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2006, Section 384, created the Cedar Mountains Wilderness area, which encompasses a portion of PFS’ proposed rail route, makes it impossible for PFS to construct a continuous rail route to the Skull Valley Indian Reservation. The Wilderness Act prohibits any commercial enterprise, permanent or temporary road, mechanical transport, or structure or installation within a wilderness area. Therefore, any BLM right-of-way permit to run a rail corridor through Cedar Mountain Wilderness Area would be illegal.

Because this quiet and wild area of the state has been designated a public use area, people are beginning to discover these mountains and make full use of the space. Hikers, campers, hunters, fishermen, explorers and tourists should not have the close presence of high-level nuclear waste hanging over their heads. Public recreation and the presence of a high-level hazardous waste facility are fundamentally incompatible public land uses.

Temporary Facility?

The PFS’ public proposal for Skull Valley anticipates 20 years (40 years if they reapply) of utilization. However, no one familiar with the nuclear politics believes the waste will ever be taken elsewhere. PFS is, in effect, proposing a permanent safety hazard, terrorist target, economic curse, and public lands impact, while only providing the particulars for a very temporary facility. The scope of the PFS proposal is inadequate to account for or even describe the realities of the impact to the land over which the BLM has stewardship.


Allowing a shell company with no way of mitigating damage to conduct an unneeded, extremely hazardous activity is not a beneficial use of public lands.

The transfer point and right-of-way is poor policy, poorly conceived, fundamentally unsafe, and clearly illegal.

Given the realities of these and many other concerns you must deny the proposed transfer site and right-of-way across public land.

I appreciate the ability to make public comment on this important issue.


John L. Valentine,
President of the Utah Senate

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