Hazardous byproducts of a material age have spawned an industry that is looking for a dump site, and Grand County voters will decide Tuesday whether the county will be one of those sites.
Whether non-accessory commercial hazardous waste incinerators will be able to locate in Grand County will be decided by referendum Nov. 8. Voters will be asked to approve or reject a decision the County Commission made last January to allow development of commercial hazardous waste incinerators.Attached or "accessory" incinerators, built for disposal of specific byproducts at the site of manufacture, would still be allowed if the referendum passes.
The issue is expected to draw a heavy vote and also affect the County Commission race. Foes of incineration have tended to side with the Democrats, and pro-incinerator forces are backing the Republican incumbents.
In the immediate sense, the vote may decide whether a project proposed by New York and Denver developers at Cisco proceeds. The project, proposed more than a year ago, would place four hazardous or toxic waste incinerators 45 miles northeast of Moab.
That prospect first spawned opposition groups in western Colorado communities. They worried about air pollution because of prevailing easterly winds that carry the airstream over watersheds and natural resources in Grand Valley, Mesa County.
Resistance quickly spilled over into Moab, where incinerator opponents added worries about potential adverse impacts on an economy increasingly dependent on tourism, retirement and recreation. Two more anti-incinerator groups formed with members in Moab and upriver 30 miles in Castle Valley.
The opposition escalated into letter-writing campaigns, public resolutions and fund-raising activities.
In Grand County, the Castle Valley Town Council passed a resolution opposing the Cisco proposal. The Moab City Council took a stand against importing out-of-state hazardous wastes to Grand County for disposal.
Despite opposition, Grand County commissioners approved an amendment to the county zoning ordinance to create a heavy industrial zone that allowed hazardous waste incinerators.
Opponents responded with a petition drive in February that qualified the issue for the ballot. Still, commissioners maintained their support for the Cisco project, proposed by CoWest Incineration of Denver and Catalyst Waste-to-Energy Corp. of New York.
Commission candidates Merv Lawton and Ferne Mullen cited the incinerator issue as one of the main reasons they chose this year to challenge commissioners Jimmie Walker and John "Dutch" Zimmerman for their county seats.
The issue grew heated the past two weeks as both sides made last-minute efforts to sway the public in weekly publications and mail-outs.
The developers mailed a glossy 15-page pamphlet to voters titled "The Cisco Project: An Environmental Solution," which says construction of a $25 million-$30 million operation could begin in 1990 if the zoning is upheld.
Grand County mailed a voter information booklet that contained arguments for and against hazardous waste incineration. In the final issue to come out before the election, the local weekly newspaper, the Moab Times-Independent, had articles, letters and ads on 14 of 24 pages that touched on incineration.
In one ad, "Mothers and Grandmothers in Grand Junction" appealed to mothers and grandmothers in Moab to "protect all our children" by voting for the referendum.
Pro-incinerator messages urged a "no" vote on the referendum to "defeat the toxic terrorists" and "see the environmentalist exit Moab." One said: "If you live in caves and ride horses and wear animal skins, vote for the referendum."
The referendum will be the first time in state history that hazardous waste development will have been decided by popular vote.