State engineer concludes hearings on nuke dump water rights request

CARSON CITY - State Engineer Mike Turnipseed closed hearings Tuesday on a federal bid to pump groundwater for a nuclear waste dump at Yucca Mountain - and got ready for a court session on the proposal.

Witnesses at Tuesday's wrap-up hearing included representatives of Citizen Alert and other public interest groups that backed the state's argument that the dump would have an adverse economic impact on Nevada.

Kaitlin Backlund of Citizen Alert said polls show Nevadans are strongly opposed to the dump, and its presence could scare off thousands of tourists, costing the Las Vegas economy millions of dollars.

Similar comments were made by Deputy Attorney General Marta Adams in closing arguments to Turnipseed, who has final say on groundwater pumping requests in Nevada.

Brent Kolvet, representing the federal Energy Department, argued that the DOE's request for 430 acre-feet per year of Amargosa Valley water is well within what's available.

Kolvet added that the water can be pumped for the project without harming neighbors' water supplies

Yucca Mountain, 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas, is the only site the DOE is studying for storage of the nation's high-level nuclear waste. Its efforts have been heavily backed by the nuclear energy industry.

The DOE is using groundwater now on a temporary permit that expires in 2002. The agency says that if Turnipseed denies the application, work will be harder but will continue at the isolated desert location.

Turnipseed said after the hearing that he must appear Wednesday in District Court in Tonopah to respond to a complaint from Amargosa Valley farmer Michael DeLee, who wasn't allowed to formally protest the DOE request when the state engineer opened the hearing last week in Las Vegas.

If DeLee wins in court, he'll have a chance to cross-examine numerous DOE witnesses called by the agency during the hearings.

Turnipseed also said he isn't likely to make a final decision on the application until after the first of the year. He said Kolvet brought up court rulings that deal with the public interest argument made by the state, and he needs to review those cases plus dozens of exhibits filed by the DOE and the state.


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