Gloria Addington hardly noticed the chilly wind blowing through this west Texas hamlet, the site of a long-running battle over whether a radioactive waste dump would be in the town's future.
Addington and others were too busy celebrating a decision by state regulators to reject a license for the proposed dump. The panel cited concerns over a geologic fault beneath the site just 20 miles from Mexico."I am so happy. I don't know how to say it. I feel like a big weight has been lifted off us," she said as well-wishers congregated in her general store to bask in Thursday's news.
Neighbors have taken sides ever since state officials decided six years ago that rural Sierra Blanca, a mostly poor community 90 miles southeast of El Paso, was the place to bury tons of low-level radioactive waste. Most of it would come from Texas utilities, and the rest would be hauled in from Maine and Vermont.
Proponents touted the dump as a potential economic boon, but residents including Addington feared the potential for contamination in the struggling town of 700.
Mexico has protested the dump as have environmentalists, who argued it would be hazardous to locate it in the state's most seismically active region and above a key groundwater source.
As the license vote neared, anti-dump activists marched on the governor's mansion in Austin this week and a group of Mexican congressmen staged a hunger strike.
The Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission voted 3-0 to deny a permit for the federally approved project. There is not "truly a complete and sufficient picture of this facility and how for example it will perform," said panel Chairman Barry McBee.
The Texas Low-Level Radioactive Waste Disposal Authority, a state agency created to find a site for the dump, has 20 days to file for a rehearing. If that is denied, the agency could go to court to try to have the commission's decision overturned.
Doug Caroom, lawyer for the disposal authority, had argued that the site is needed to dispose of radioactive trash generated by power plants, industry, medical labs and universities.
Texas began searching for a dump site in 1983.