Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Environmental Outrage: Toxic Waste Site Proposed For Area Of Prehistoric Ruins

Except for the distant cry of a raven, there were only the sounds of my children and my friend Sloan and I peeling and munching on orange slices. It was noontime and we were squatting under the cottonwoods in a ravine beneath the Castle, an exquisitely constructed silo-like structure of sandstone at Hovenweep, a cluster of Anasazi ruins in the Utah desert. The trees offered the only shade in the area.

Hovenweep was the northernmost advance of the Anasazi, or Ancient Puebloans to use the politically correct term.

Why these people, whose origins have been traced to Mexico in about 1,200 BC, migrated north onto the Colorado Plateau -- present day Arizona, Colorado and Utah -- is barely understood. But it is their sudden disappearance about 700 years ago, leaving Hovenweep (which means "deserted valley" in the Piute-Ute languages) and other contiguous "cities" deserted and much as they looked when we passed the heat of the day in that ravine, that remains the most enduring mystery of the Southwestern U.S.

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In the mind's eye of the armchair tourist, historic Southwestern sites are far from man's long and sometimes destructive reach. That is sometimes the case, but not so with Hovenweep, which I learned to my surprise is adjacent to ranches, farms and orchards on my first expedition there with Sloan in 1995.

For the most part, those neighbors have been respectful of the Canyons of the Ancients National Monument and Hovenweep National Monument, which includes the Castle complex and five other prehistoric villages spread over a twenty-mile expanse in Utah and Colorado, as well as two wildlife sanctuaries.

Then late in the winter, a small sign designed to be missed by all but the most curious passersby was posted on the site of a former campground on County Road 10. It stated that the new owners of the land were applying for a "High Impact, Special Use" permit for the construction of "The Outhouse Recycling Facility."

That may sound rather benign, but it is anything but. In fact, the facility (to be located in the middle left area on the map) would be the largest gas waste site on the Western Slope.

The site would consist of eight evaporation ponds, each one eight feet deep and four acres in size, two four-acre pits for concentrated sludge and a sixteen-acre area for contaminated soil. Exploration and production wastes would be trucked from gas wells in the four adjoining states down a narrow shoulderless farm road to a site above a San Juan River tributary in an area upwind from some of the most productive alfalfa fields and pinto bean farms in the country.

As well as Hovenweep.

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The Bush environmental record is, of course, atrocious. The last eight years has seen not just a relaxation of environmental rules but extraordinary encroachment into pristine areas in the West and Southwest that had been off limits to oil and gas exploration and drilling, let alone dumping toxic waste.

In this instance the waste would be liquid and contain one or two pounds of salt per gallon, along with contaminants like volatile hydrocarbons and heavy metals.

waste would be allowed to evaporate and become concentrated into a solid that would be excavated to expedite a drying process helped by winds that regularly guest over 40 miles per hour, lifting and carrying the waste unhindered to those neighboring ranches, farms and orchards, which are on a migration route for heron, ducks, geese and bald and golden eagles. (The waste site is in the lower left of the aerial photo above with prevailing winds blowing to upper right.)

Extraordinarily, the developers claim that a site sized to hold over 100 million gallons of liquids and solids would result in minimal traffic flow and have absolutely no impact on neighboring land owners.

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A strange-bedfellows alliance of ranchers, farmers, environmentalists and my friend Sloan have come together to form the Hovenweep Alliance. They need your help.

Top photograph by Wally Pacholka


Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

So where would you propose they put this facility?? Fair question no? I assume you drive a car and use the electricity provided by the Industry which wants this site. How would YOU handle it?

Looks like the site is around 15 miles away from Hovenweep. How would this site destroy or even affect Hovenweep in the least? I can see how farmers would be against it, the stench, although these types of farms produce plenty of stench themselves. Hovenweep is upwind from the site, further negating your claim that it would be destroyed.

Also, what specifically was destroyed by Bush era changes in Environmental Policy.

Just curious, thx.

Shaun Mullen said...

A suitable site might be in your back yard. Or, if you have young children, adjacent to their school.

The record is awash with examples of the destruction that Bush's utter disregard for the environment (with the conspicuous exception of an undersea refuge off of Hawaii) wrought. You do not need my help to find examples.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for an intellectually dishonest answer to a legitimate question. So I'll ask again: Where would you put this facility or how would you handle this waste??

From about 15 miles away and downwind, how does this facility affect Hovenweep??

The high desert seems very inert. You drive a car and use electricity right?? So we are ALL accomplices to the byproducts of Energy Production ... not just OTHER people. What is your suggestion for this waste?

Also, if the Bush record is awash with innumerable examples of ecological destruction, give me just one ...

Shaun Mullen said...

How about the former Rocky Mountain Arsenal for a site? It is isolated, is no stranger to toxic substances and while no longer a military facility, certainly would welcome some entrepreneurs bearing toxic gifts.

I'm not going to engage you on the Bush destruction meme. You're welcome to go ahead and defend his record. It will be fascinating reading.

Anonymous said...

Well at least that's an answer. I would deploy a broader strategy across the nation utilizing only a few remote or isolated sites, rather than dotting the landscape with more sites. Yucca Mountain is one example, but, alas people are against that most obvious and safest solution as well ...

How do you suppose 15 miles of land in between the evaporation site and Hovenweep would affect it??

I was hoping you'd enlighten me regarding Bush's most destructive environmental scheme, from your perspective ... overall I don't see any real changes or tangible degradation to the environment over the past 8 years, I don't seen any additional drilling nor mass swaths of tree removal. But I could be wrong.

john said...

I don't believe siting is the question. A number of alternatives for disposal of oil and gas wastes are available, some (closed loop" systems are an example) are cost effective with small footprints.
Evaporation ponds are the cheapest and most dangerous method of disposal. They concentrate trace amounts until toxic levels are reached or exceeded.
Farms and ranches are threatened by salt concentrations. The high desert may seem inert, but it is very alive, and fragile.
Finally, this is not a "storage" process, it is about disposal, or dumping, of toxins into the atmosphere. 95% of 100 million gallons of waste dumped into the atmosphere at 7,000 feet, in the middle of a national monument.
There's got to be a better way

Anonymous said...

I doubt the plan is to allow salts to leach into the soil. These ponds have a lining right? I do agree that chemicals other than water would evaporate into the air, thus a better way must be possible.

Compared to other landscapes, the desert is indeed inert. Not completely free of plants and animals but comparatively sterile. Thus the desert is the better location for storage/handling of this type of waste.

Currently most Nuclear Plants store the radioactive waste on site. These storage containers are subject to accidents and corrosion. If Yucca mountain were opened, these radioactive materials could be stored thousands of feet underground, at constant temperature, no corrosion, and no threat of tectonic activity.

Perfect solution to the problem. But thanks to Environmentalists in denial, these radioactive substances are not secured safely.

Windmills are supposed to save the planet. That's what Enviro's have told us .. Yet in areas where windmills are proposed ... Enviro's again stand in the way for selfish, illogical reasons. Either we want to produce clean renewable power or we don't.

Too many special interests stand in the way of common sense solutions to energy problems.

Anonymous said...


More than 300 Crimes against Nature

Source: Natural Resources Defense Council

Anonymous said...


rod said...

When trying to debate with a mental retard such as booogieman
you must remember that "it" is simple a mindless follower of the republican royalty.rape,ruin&run
greed and coruption at its best.
bush/cheney should be tried for crimes against man & nature!!!
they sent 5000 young people to their death to get back the oil fields sadat took from their rich oil buddys years ago.
so polluteing a part of the u.s.a. is no big deal to them
where to put all this toxic waste???
booogieman's back yard!!!!!

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