While Colorado has the right to decide where in that state to build a dump for low-level radioactive waste, it certainly is being a poor neighbor in blatantly ignoring Utah concerns about the dump site.
State and local officials in Colorado have approved a dump site about 20 miles from the Utah border and - of particular concern - near the San Miguel River, a tributary of the Colorado River, which runs into Utah.Utah several months ago raised questions about the wisdom of putting the dump near a river - normally an environmentally wrong decision. It's asking for trouble to put hazardous materials near a river, or any place where water supplies might be affected.
Because that water eventually ends up in Utah, the Beehive state has a big stake in the decision.
Early last October, Gov. Bangerter wrote to Colorado Gov. Roy Romer, asking questions and raising concerns about transportation safety, the geology of the site, and the risk of radioactive materials contaminating the Colorado River.
The decision to go ahead with the site in Colorado's Montrose County near the Utah border was made without ever replying to that letter. Under the circumstances, Utah would be justified in taking legal steps or other actions to intervene until its concerns are answered.
The dump will handle mildly radioactive radium wastes from a Denver hazardous waste cleanup project. Utah officials say the site was chosen, not because it was the best place for a dump, but because it was the most politically convenient for Colorado officials.
Certainly, politics plays a role in choosing a site for such a facility, but the technical aspects can't simply be ignored. Colorado spent several years examining and ranking 29 possible sites for the dump. The place near the Utah border was not even on that original list.
The current site was once rejected by Colorado health officials and once by Colorado geology experts.
Until some answers are forthcoming - answers that realistically deal with scientific concerns about the site - Utah should be prepared to appeal to the Environmental Protection Agency or even the courts to put the project on hold.