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Harding County joins growing borehole opposition

April 14, 2017 GMT

Harding County on Thursday joined a growing list of local governments, state lawmakers and others opposed to a borehole in neighboring Quay County that many fear could mark the area as a disposal site for radioactive waste.

The borehole project, funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, calls for drilling into granite and crystalline rock three miles below ground. The department wants to test whether deep, narrow holes could hold nuclear waste, but it says no waste would be involved in the testing.

The Harding County Commission passed a resolution opposing the borehole in Quay County, as well as another borehole proposed in Otero County in Southern New Mexico. The commission also said it would oppose any attempt to drill a borehole in Harding, although one has not been proposed there.

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“We had a community meeting, and a whole bunch of citizens of Harding County opposed it,” said Harold Mackey, chairman of the County Commission. “We just don’t want any harmful stuff around in our county. … We oppose nuclear waste in our county. We don’t want it in our neighborhood.”

Other opponents of the Quay County borehole include the commissions of Quay and Union counties, the New Mexico Cattle Growers’ Association and the Canadian River Municipal Authority, as well as state Sen. Pat Woods, R-Broadview, and state Rep. Dennis Roch, R-Logan.

The action by the Harding County Commission came on the same day the Otero County Commission declined to take action on a resolution opposing the borehole project in that county. Commissioners said they needed to conduct more research before a vote.

The proposed resolution says a majority of Otero County residents oppose the borehole. It would rescind the commission’s position of neutrality on the project.

Six Republican state lawmakers from Southern New Mexico have signed a letter in support of the borehole, calling it a “worthwhile research project that will bring educational and economic opportunities to Otero County” and asking the community to join them in supporting the federal proposal.

If a company gains community and Department of Energy support to drill, the project will last between five and 10 years and could generate roughly $35 million for the community.

The Department of Energy granted nearly $1 million to companies to begin the first phase of a borehole project — referred to as community buy-in — in the two New Mexico counties, as well as in Texas and South Dakota. To date, none of the communities has granted support. In May, the Department of Energy may eliminate some of the sites.

Contact Rebecca Moss at 505-986-3011 or rmoss@sfnewmexican.com.