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Tonya Kleuskens

INTERVIEWEE: Tonya Kleuskens (TK)
DATE: October 15, 2002
LOCATION: Dawn, Texas
TRANSCRIBERS: Chris Flores and Robin Johnson
REELS: 2247 and 2248

Please note that the video includes roughly 60 seconds of color bars and sound tone for technical settings at the outset of the recordings. Numbers correlate with the time codes on the VHS tape copy of the interview. “Misc.” refers to various off-camera conversation or background noise, unrelated to the interview.

DT: My name is David Todd. It’s October 15th, 2002. We’re in a small community called Dawn, Texas, which is a little bit east of Hereford and we have the nice opportunity to visit with Tonya Kleusken who’s been involved in a number of environmental efforts here in the Panhandle, particularly one involving a high level radio active waste site and also a domestic municipal waste site that was proposed more recently. As well she’s been involved in some of the Pantex struggles as well. I wanted to take this chance to thank you for taking the time to talk with us.
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TK: Oh, thank you for asking.
DT: I thought I’d start this interview like we start many of them and that’s by asking if there was any experience in your childhood or early days that might have first introduced you to an interest in conservation.
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TK: The—the earliest thing I remember is—is a gardening experience that I had. I—I planted some Zenya’s in a flowerbed by the front door. And they—they grew and they bloomed and they were gorgeous. I was six years old and I was so proud of them. My mother’s friend came over and brought her daughter and she picked every single one of them and I was horrified. I cried for days. Outside of that, I didn’t garden much after that until I married. My mother and father were not really interested in—in outdoor
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activities. My father was a welder and World War II veteran and—and they—it—you know, it just wasn’t their—their habit. So I don’t know exactly where my interest came from, but whenever I married then, you know, we certainly had a common interest in outdoor activities. My husband’s a farmer. When—when we married, we married in May and as soon as I moved to the farm, we got all my stuff situated and he said, oh
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yeah, by the way, I planted a garden in the field and it’s—it’s yours and you need to water it and hoe it and—and pick it and do something with the vegetables. So, that was my introduction, that first year I tried, but I didn’t get the water at the right time, the green beans were too stringy, so, you know, we—we weren’t able to eat them. After that, I’ve had a—a garden each year since and I got a little better at it.
DT: Can you just describe what sort of vegetables and other produce you grow?
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TK: Yes—green beans, black-eyed peas, okra, tomatoes, some leaf lettuce, broccoli, cabbage, a few carrots, radishes, whatever I can think of. And if—I’m always so eager in the spring to get that, you know, that first vegetable, I’m very hungry for it.
DT: You also raised flowers?
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TK: Yes I do. That—that first experience was it, it was just very satisfying to me and I thought that—I always thought that my garden was so much cheaper than a psychologist, that there was no reason not to—to use it to its full extent. So I spent as much time as I could gardening and—and doing the yard work.
DT: How does it make you happy to do that?
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TK: Well, it’s—it’s just—it’s very peaceful. Whenever I’m out there on my hands and knees pulling weeds in the middle of the flowers in June, it just seems that all is right with the world. So I can’t think of a better thing to do. But when my youngest daughter went to college in 90’—in the fall of 95’, she was in Amarillo, she was going to school in Clarendon, and she was in Amarillo and walked into a—a small florist shop on Sixth Street
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and said, oh, you would just love my mother’s flowers. And the—the young florist said, well, ask her to bring me a sample, so I did. And she bought everything I could bring her that first summer and the second and then her designers quit and went to work for another shop and—and then they started calling me. So very quickly in the summertime I had a—a nice little business going. And it—it’s—but it’s as much as I can do by myself. So I—I suspect it won’t get much larger.
DT: Well I understand you’ve also been busy with a number of volunteer efforts on behalf of protecting the aquifer around here from some high level radioactive waste proposal that were started back in the—the late 70’s, early 80’s, is that correct?
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TK: Yes. One of the really fortunate things about the Texas Panhandle in the depth of the Ogallala Aquifer, is that with the—the strong farming activity that the—the depth of the Aquifer has protected it from run off contamination and—and quick—quick contamination from water sources. So, we’ve just been so protected that it hasn’t been something that the people in this area have had to—to give a lot of thought to. In 1978 was my first experience of seeing the—the seismographic crew. We had had a few in the
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area prior to that, but this time there were five or six rigs coming in a row and they came down the county road that you see here south of the house and they started quite a bit further west and we were looking out after lunch one day watching them come and it was—I remember it being a—a really strange thought. You know, this is—is so unusual for them to come in such a group. It seems like there’s something more. And it wasn’t very long then until we started hearing that the Department of Energy had dug a couple test wells. A neighbor to our northeast had allowed them to dig one. And then there were a couple of others in—in the area for them to—to look at the geology of the area. It
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wasn’t until 1982 that the Nuclear Waste Policy Act was passed giving nine sites around the nation as potential geologic disposal sites for high-level radioactive waste. This is the waste that originally was to come just from nuclear power reactors. There was a—quite a bit of concern from Jimmy Carter that to reprocess or to do anything other than the government take control of this could cause proliferation around the world. And there—that fly. So—he endorsed the—the aspect of geologic disposal and it seemed quite
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reasonable that salt—bedded salt domes would be a very good storage place because they would absorb and dissipate the—the heat from the—the radioactive cast. So our area was named “Deaf Smith County.” There was not a specific location, but Deaf Smith County was named in 1982. We knew that it was coming, the newspaper articles had—had talked a little bit about that leading up to the 1982. So I was concerned and wondered if
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anybody else in the community felt as I did. Well, Governor White at the time had already established a nuclear waste programs office. There was a man named Danny Smith as the director and Steve Frishman worked in there and he came from the—the—what is the word for the—the University of Texas geologic?
DT: The Bureau of Economic Geology.
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TK: Yes, the bureau. He came from the Bureau of Economic Geology when he went to work for Mark White. I never did meet Danny Smith in this area, I did in Austin once or twice. But Steve Frishman became a regular coming to the Department of Energy meetings. But at this particular meeting, this—this first meeting, I asked him if he would come and—and speak to a group of people. I didn’t know who would come or who would help with it, but he agreed to come. In February of 1982 I had organized a—a—a
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community meeting and asked Steve Frishman to come from the nuclear waste programs office to speak with us and tell us what was going on just a—a informative type meeting. This was also my introduction to Georgia Aukerman because whenever it was in the newspaper that this was going to happen, she gave me a call and said, I’m very interested in this subject, what can I do? And I said well, would you make coffee? She doesn’t even drink coffee to this day, so this is one of her favorite stories, that she had to—to
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figure out how to—to fill a twenty-four cup coffee pot and—and how to make it for the public. But we—we worked it out and at that particular meeting all of the people that were—were very concerned came and—and it was our introduction to the group that—that later formed as POWER, People Opposed to Wasted Energy Repositories. But following the meeting, many of them came up to me and said that Steve Frishman, we don’t know about him, he doesn’t sound like he is on our side, and so we had to—to laugh later on as he became a—a—one of our closest allies. But I don’t think at that time that Governor White knew exactly which position he wanted to take. There was—you
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know, there was such a strong political support for the Department of Energy and their activities around Pantex, and I think that was—was one of the things that made the Texas Panhandle attractive was because they were very much a part of the area and very well accepted. So I don’t think that they were really sure exactly what—what kind of a position they wanted to take. But things started to come together very quickly after Deaf Smith County was identified and Swisher County as well. Just prior to this meeting in—
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in 1982, Swisher County had already started to organize under the insistence of Delbert Devin. Delbert Devin is also a World War II veteran. He was a navigator in some of the air force planes at that time and has some really good stories to tell, but he’ll have to tell you those. But he—he was a—very democratically active and was a strong force in—in Swisher County, so they brought together a group called STAND, Serious Texans Against Nuclear Dumping. Wally Bird was very active, he is in the farm implement
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construction business—very successful man. Then Brian Bocart and Kay Lynn Bocart, cousins, were served as officers over the years. I’m sure that there are many other in Swisher County that I’m not as familiar with because I didn’t see them as often and I hope that you’ll get the opportunity to—to learn about them. But Delbert was very helpful in—in contacting us right away once he knew that there was someone interested and someone active. And we—we worked together as a coalition starting from that point forward. After the February meeting, the group of people that—that came started to meet in homes and—and discuss what it meant for our community and—and what could be
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done. There was Georgia and Rick Aukerman—Rick worked for George Water Seed Company at the time, he’s an agronomist. Georgia is a teacher. Jim and Carry Styert—Jim is an outdoors writer—does many freelance articles for outdoors magazines, sometimes Texas Parks and Wildlife and Carry is also a writer. And then there was John and Judy Craighouser who have a—an insurance business and Tim and Kathy Rivell, Tim is a physician. He lived in Hereford at the time but has since moved to Amarillo.
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There were so—so many others that were very active—Chip Formby who was a local newsman and has since manages the local radio station. But very—very many local people that were—were concerned—Randy and—and Margaret Marshall. So we would meet on a semi-regular basis and decide, you know, how we would get the information out to the public. There—we also took a few trips to Austin in cooperation with the Stand from Tulia and started to speak with our legislatures and—and get a feel for what
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they thought. Jim Hightower was the agriculture commissioner at the time and being such a colorful person he just took the lead and—and talking about the Department of Energy and—and how it didn’t mix with the agriculture of the area. It was—it was very fortunate for us that he was so high profile at the time. Also, during the same time frame, STAND of Amarillo began to form. They formed under the charter of STAND of Tulia and were very helpful in disseminating information in the Amarillo area. There was a—a group that called themselves the Amarillo Nuclear Waste Committee, which was the only
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group that ever came out public in support of the repository during this time frame. I always suspected that they—they always had strong links to the Committee for Energy Awareness, but there was never any specific tie. Just advertising in newspapers, magazines, that—that—that made me think that.
DT: Can you analyze what the grounds of opposition were for those people you just mentioned against this waste disposal proposal and what the folks were proposing and supporting this idea, what they were saying?
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TK: Yes, on the supporting side, the project was claimed to be an eight billion dollar project, which could bring between six and eight hundred million dollars into the area in, you know, salaries, construction, various things. The governors nuclear waste programs office could never really verify that particular amount of money. So that was the—the primary draw. The opposition was our Ogallala Aquifer. The—to get to the bedded salt,
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they would have to drill through the Ogallala Aquifer. The plan was to freeze the aquifer for drilling purposes and then to cement it off. Cementing it off is done in drilling deeper for other purposes—for wells—oil wells, and we also have a Santa Rosa Aquifer that—which is deeper still than the—the Ogallala. But, there was a great deal of concern and still remains that for the life of the activity that would be going on and the amount of activity that would be going on under ground, there would be very large tunnels and then rooms off of those tunnels and then holes drilled in the floor where each individual
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container, which would be a fuel rod, the fuel rods from the—from nuclear power industry would be placed. With so much going on and so much potential for cracking, there was a great deal of concern that there would be seepage if it didn’t come from the actual shaft going down, which would be much larger than any irrigation well or oil well because it would had to of been huge in diameter to get mining equipment and elevators to bring people back and forth and—and these kinds of things. So the concern was with
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all of this going on that there would be a potential for cracking and potential for seeping into the—the mine shafts that would allow the water to become contaminated and then either evaporate or seep further back and forth—or even the steam—since the fuel rods would be so hot, if there was water seeping into it, then it would create a steam that could permeate back into the aquifer or back into other layers within the earth. So there was a great deal of concern and—and much of this, you know, because we value our water and
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because we had to be—have to be so careful to protect the Ogallala, we wanted to—to see to it that—that that was taken care of, but also because of the farming industry in the area. There is a great deal of seed production, grain sorghum for hay forages and other things that are grown right here in Deaf Smith County. I had heard the—the figures and they were between eighty and ninety percent of the world’s seed for grain sorghum products is grown here in Deaf Smith County. So there—that industry was very concerned about how even the perception would affect their industry. And on the perception side, Arrowhead Mills is—home is in Hereford, which is in Deaf Smith
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County and they were very concerned that whether there was ever any contamination of any kind that the—that the association being in the same area would affect their—their sales. So they were—were very concerned. And then we just generally have farming—lots of grains, wheat, treacle, cattle fed. Also in the area there are, on any given day, two million head of cattle in the county being fed. So they’re drinking water from the Ogallala and eating grains that are grown here. So there—there’s just a great deal of
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concern that the—that the two weren’t compatible. You know, we may be geographically near Pantex and other department of energy facilities, but—but we’re two counties away and the—the type of activity in our economic base, we’re just different. So the—the farming community came to the call and said this is—this isn’t going to work, you know, there—there are salt—bedded salts in other areas that potentially could work better than this one. There—there is also quite a bit of concern that—that maybe
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we needed to look at geologic disposal as a possibility, but we didn’t need to put all of our money into it right up front—that we needed to look at—at other mediums of storage that we had certainly gone too far in the nuclear industry without a—a resolution to the problem of radioactive waste. I remember in the beginning there was lots of advertising that—that the—that technology was moving so quickly that the problem would be resolved before there was a buildup. Well, it didn’t happen. I don’t know if it was dollars of research or if it was just that the focus was on energy and not on disposal, but
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we also had great and vast areas in the United States in that day and time that—that we don’t have any longer—where, you know, you can just send your waste out there and—and out of sight, out of mind. We had hoped that through what the work we did here in Deaf Smith County that we would be able to—to participate in a—in a larger national discussion about what the appropriate thing to do with the radioactive waste was. Wherever the radioactive waste goes, even today with Yucca Mountain, it is going to
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involve miles of highway and transportation and transportation through many communities, potentials for accidents, and even the best container can have flaws. So there—there is still some concern and with the issue for us having been resolved, I thought it was a bit of a shallow victory because—because the radioactive waste is still to be dealt with, there’s still no resolution, and here we are in 2002 and it looks as though congress has decided that Yucca Mountain is it, that that’s where it will go regardless of geologic concerns and—and concerns with—with storage in general.
DT: How did you manage to defeat the proposal for Swisher County and Deaf Smith County?
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TK: As we continued past 1982 the Department of Energy did environmental assessment and then they would have to hold public hearings about these environmental assessments and people from Swisher County and Deaf Smith County would—would go and voice their concerns, then they would have to write a response. So all of this took years in—in preparation. But by 1986 the Department of Energy narrowed it down to
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five suggested sites and three for characterization, which meant that they would go ahead and—and drill the—the test shafts and—and look into the—the formations and—and make some scientific determinations and those sites were narrowed down to Deaf Smith County, Hansford Washington, and Yucca Mountain Nevada.
DT: Why do you think that most of these sites were west of Mississippi and most of the nuclear power production was east of the Mississippi?
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TK: Obviously population—you know, and the potential for contamination and problems, the fewer people affected the better. In one of the early Department of Energy environmental assessments, they referred to the population in the Texas Panhandle as virtually uninhabited. So we—we enjoyed being virtual un-inhabitants for quite a long time. So I think just population—I mean, you know, we’re talking about something that
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is not very sterile and you just don’t—you don’t want to affect a large population if you do have a problem. So in 1986 this was—was narrowed down and so we were able to see a—a specific piece of land during that identification—they said okay, this—this is it, where we would—would drill the test holes. And it was an area of land in northwest Deaf Smith County almost to the Oldham County border, which would be near the Vega community. And the landowners that were identified were Anthony Paschal, who is a—a
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long-time family farmer—his family has been in this area a long time. Mildred and Donald Hicks and Wayne Richardson and he has a couple sons that they happen to be in the seed industry. And ironically, since this was one of the concerns, they have their family seed business on the land that the Department of Energy wanted to purchase and were growing seed production grain sorghum in this area. Wayne became very outspoken, it—it was very practical and still is a very practical business person and—and
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saw this as just one legal matter that needed to be cleared up. So he would approach things from that perspective. Donald Hicks was completely disturbed by his land being identified. His wife was born on the land that they farmed. He had added to it during his time in farming and they inherited this wonderful farmhouse and—and had raised their son Mark there. He had also been past president of the Hereford Chamber of Commerce had served as a county commissioner, and when—when his property was singled out and
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the community didn’t support him, he was so hurt and I can just feel his emotion because he was—he didn’t understand why he was forsaken, he was a very active involved person in the United Methodist Church. At that time we had a mayor, Wes Fischer, who was also a member, we had councilmen that were also members, and—and Chamber of Commerce people who were also members, and they abandoned him completely. And whenever Hereford was identified, the Chamber of Commerce and—and business people of the community, formed to go to Columbus Ohio to say, come on, you’re welcome, we want you, we want your money, we think this is wonderful, and completely looked past the—the rule agriculture economy that had grown these businesses and established a community.
DT: Why do you think they turned away?
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TK: I think that—that they were—were somewhat concerned about agriculture fading if, as the aquifer was depleted. And I also think that, you know, the idea of—of no matter how short-lived it is of spending millions of dollars in the community, that that’s going to be spread around a little bit. While many of these business people were—were in a farming community, some of them didn’t interact directly with farming. Now, Wes Fischer did, he had owned a vegetable shed and grew and marketed onions and potatoes,
carrots too I believe. But—but that wasn’t—wasn’t the way it was. The—the
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Department of Energy was very smart at this time. In 1986 they started to move people here very quickly. Some people in real estate bought buildings and redid them, leased them out to the Department of Energy. People that moved into the community very quickly started going to—to church and Linda McClain was—was one of the program managers that the department moved to Hereford. Some of those that were at a little higher level lived in Amarillo and in Canyon, but they—they did move in very quickly, set up offices, and—and began to make a presence known. It—it wasn’t—it wasn’t difficult to—to organize with them present, it—because of the political awareness that
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had built in the years between 82’ and 86’. We had begun the process already of putting together a nuclear waste task force, which was—many of the commodity organizations. There was the Texas Corn Producers and Carl King was their representative, he’s from
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Dimmitt. There—there was the Texas Wheat Growers—Leo Witkowski was their representative. There was the United—Northwest Texas United Methodist Conference—Lois Wells represented them and then the Church Women United. We also had then POWER of Hereford, STAND of Tulia, STAND of Amarillo and with the site being located near Vega, we started another POWER chapter there, which became POWER of Vega.
DT: I can understand how some of these agricultural trade groups might have been opposed—sort of a bottom line issue if their crops might have been affected by contamination of the aquifer—I’m curious why the church groups got involved in the fight against this high level radioactive waste proposal.
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TK: I think that in the mid 80’s that the nuclear proliferation question was permeating most of—of the church organizations and—and their church bodies in developing mission statements or purpose statements about how—how their particular organization viewed those things. And the Methodists and the Catholics were certainly very straightforward in—in how—how they viewed them. And—and they were not necessarily supportive and they weren’t necessarily supportive of—of the—parts of the
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industry and the—and the Cold War that—that affected individuals in a negative way. So, I think that was the—the purpose of the Methodists becoming involved. As we developed the—the nuclear waste task force, it allowed us a broader base for fundraising and just moving into that and—and full force at this time, we had hired Alice Hector to represent us legally out of Albuquerque New Mexico. Alice has, in recent years, been very hire profile in Florida in a child custody case. If you see that in the news you’ll
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remember the connection. And also Don Hancock from the Southwest Research and Information Center near Carlsbad. I think they’re office is in Albuquerque. He was—had had quite a bit of experience with the Department of Energy, the style of environmental assessments and the environmental concerns through his involvement with the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant Project there at Carlsbad. He was very helpful in guiding us and helping us understand documents, helping us think through responses. And Alice
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filed a few cases for us representing the agriculture aspect and the—and the landowners in particular during this early time. Then as we moved a little bit more into 1986, we were able to hire a lobbyist in Washington D.C. The one we worked with primarily, there was a firm and I—I know that there’s one of the gentleman, I cannot remember his name, but the one that worked primarily with us was Sam White. He had gone to Washington during the late 70’s on the tractor cades that went to represent the—the farming—he grew up in Stratford, so he—he had roots in the Panhandle and it was a—a personal issue for him. He worked for Kent Hence, while Kent Hence was a congressman, and then went into business with his cousin representing farming issues. So, during 86’ and into 87’, we had quite a bit of help.
DT: Can you describe some of the arguments that your legal counsel made or that the technical support made against the site?
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TK: Well, primarily with the—with the legal council it was incompatibility and also questions about the right of eminent domain to force these land owners into selling property that was very near and dear to them. So those—those were kind of focuses for the legal representation and the technical was-was whether or not the technology for drilling, sealing off, maintaining a repository was adequate for the short-term as well as
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the long-term because we were—we were talking two hundred and fifty thousand years into the future. So, for—for being able to seal the radioactive waste away from humanity. The Department of Energy wasn’t worried about sealing things off long-term, they—they were planning to put some kind of a Stonehenge type marker up and encrypt it with every language known to man plus some ancient languages that—that they thought would—would let someone know into the future that the radioactive waste was down there.
DT: Were there short-term concerns about this radioactive waste site that were distinct from the long-term seepage problems—were there catastrophic issues that you thought were more short-term?
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TK: Potential water contamination affecting current generations. We—we suspected that if it happened, it wouldn’t happen in—in the first ten years, but it would after that. At the time, in the early 80’s, there was—was not a strong school of thought on Ogallala recharge. There had been studies since then that have verified that it happens much quicker than we thought, but at that time the school of thought was that the recharge was slow, taking up to a hundred years to bring surface water to the aquifer. But just the fact
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that the aquifer has not depleted at the rates that were predicted in the early 80’s and—and that in some cases it has risen has certainly changed all of the thought about—about how it happens. But those were the primary issues of concern, plus what it would do to the local economy outside of—of the repository activity—the farming and the—the organic vegetables, you know, and grains, those kinds of things—and the seed production. So, there—and—and the—and the idea much of what the farming community was concerned about was the marketability of products that were grown in and near a radioactive waste storage facility, whether or not we ever had any actual contamination.
DT: And you also mentioned that you had a lobbyist that was making arguments and making contacts for you, did he work at all with Jim Wright?
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TK: Yes, yes. Jim Wright was—was very helpful and—and was definitely an ally during that time.
DT: What sort of a role do you think Jim Wright played—I guess at the time he was Speaker of the House?
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TK: Yes he was. Information exchange and—and—you know, when—in 1987 the—the thing that finally changed it was a—a budgetary measure that was proposed by a W. Gray—I’m not sure what his first name was—I don’t remember what his—the area he represented, at the time I remember thinking that he was down-state Texas, but you
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know, I’ve—I’ve never read anything or had anything confirm that. He—he proposed that the budget be cut and that the budgetary cuts affect it in such a way that the characterization take place only in Nevada. So with that one budgetary move, it took Deaf Smith County out of the running December 22nd, 1987 and it was over.
DT: Why did that happen, other than what Mr. Gray did, I mean what may have triggered Mr. Gray’s change in the budget?
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TK: I always suspected that it was a—a—a favor trade—that—that one of the congressmen—we had Larry Combest as our representative here. He always offered a listening ear, but he was never really very helpful, never really took any activity unless he was—was speaking with people behind the scenes. But we certainly did work to make a presence in Washington, the fall of 1987 I went to Washington five times on trips to educate our legislatures.
DT: Can you retell some of your experiences talking to legislature and—and what their response was to some of the arguments that you made?
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TK: They—they certainly always acted as though they agreed and that they understood completely—were very willing to listen. We did—you know, we didn’t find anyone that was really rude to us or—or that had their mind set in—in how this issue should fall. There—there had been so much political activity from the—the more populated areas like Michigan and Ohio that were identified—and Pennsylvania, in the earlier years, that—that there was—there was quite a bit of—of knowledge about the—
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the radioactive storage program in Washington. We also had begun to meet with groups from around the country that were concerned about this and had developed—by 1987 we had developed the National Nuclear Waste Task Force, which involved groups from Nevada and groups from Washington State as well as groups that had continued concerns from other facilities around the—the nation. One other thing of interest though is that in 1985 President Reagan determined that there was no longer any reason to keep military or radioactive waste and civilian radioactive waste separate, and he authorized the Commingling Act, which would—would make one repository due. There was also a—a
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track for doing—for characterizing a second repository site knowing that the first repository would—would house only seventy thousand metric tons and that they would—would need eventually a second one. Also in this—in this measure for cutting the budget, the—the search for a second repository was ceased until much later in the game, which was to be, if I remember correctly, some time around 2008 to 2010 if—if the need was still there.
DT: When you succeeded in helping to slow down and finally stop the proposal for the Panhandle site and attention drifted elsewhere to Yucca Mountain, did you manage to help some of the folks in Yucca Mountain or did you feel the geological qualities there made that site a better candidate?
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TK: Personally I never felt that—that the—that the geology made that site any better a candidate. The site was on federally owned property, which made it easier access. But I was never really convinced that we were approaching the radioactive storage properly. You know, reasonable, yes, you know, put it somewhere where it cannot be accessed for nuclear weapons productions, put it somewhere where it cannot contaminate humanity. You know, those things were within reason, but when—when you take that into a global context of—of what it—how it changes the geology when you introduce a new—a new substance, especially one that generates so much heat much closer to the surface than—
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than the earth’s natural heat sources, what you have to do to get it down there. Those kinds of things I—I always felt presented more concern for geologic disposal, plus the fact that it has to transported coast to coast, you know, to—to get it there, and all of the people that the—that the many thousands of—of transport trucks would—many communities it would transport through and—and potential for accidents.
DT: Well what do you think the best final outcome would be? Are you an advocate for more on-site storage at the current nuclear utility sites and some of the military sites—what do you think the best outcome would be?
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TK: Yes, I think I’m an advocate for dry cast on-site storage for short-term. And I think that the money that we have put into the geologic disposal program should be—should be refocused into energy research. I think that—that when we discovered nuclear power, that—that we slowed down on our energy research and if you—and on the energy spectrum, we’re just infants here in what we have been able to understand and make use of the energy available in our universe and I—so I really think that there is some answers that we have not yet come to. You know, during this same time frame, there was some
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discussion about the Super—Conducting Super Collider, and it was essentially killed because of the expense to the nation for building such a research facility. But in—in perfect hindsight, I really don’t understand how the physicists could make the next step until they could actually do the next thing they needed to do because it would take one—one more step for them to come to the conclusion of where they needed to go from there. And that was the—the, you know, the next step in the process at the time. While we do have to—to be careful about our national budget.
DT: Maybe you can explain a little bit more to me about the Super-Conducting Super Collider, it was a, if I remember, a research tool to look at subatomic particles and how they behave and—but you think that there was also a possible energy source there, is that what you’re saying?
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TK: There—there was a—a possibility of—of discovering the fission as separate from fusion because we—we haven’t been able to—to make that next step. And—and we don’t know where it might have led. You know, the—the world of the subatomic particles has continued to open up to us a science—has looked at those and discovered quarks and string theories and things that we didn’t know about in the—in the early 80’s. So, I just personally believe that we’re infants in the energy game here on earth.
DT: It’s interesting you mentioned Ronald Reagan and his decision to commingle civilian nuclear waste and the military (?) in same radioactive waste. Can you talk a little bit about Pantex and some of the weapons related issues in radioactive materials?
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TK: Well, Pantex had—when Pantex came into the—the Panhandle following the Second World War, they had come in very—in a very similar manner that the Department of—of Energy was looking for a repository site and had taken farm land in a—in a German farming community there north of Amarillo. They had taken it by eminent domain, there—you know, there were little questions asked, especially having
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gone into a German farming community at that time, people were still a little bit afraid to speak up and they—it was to be a ammunitions plant, which very quickly started to change into nuclear weapons production. So there—it—it was—it was—it was—the time was right in the Texas Panhandle for them to be able to—to—to build that facility without question and then Pantex over those years just became such a—an established part of the community, very large donors to local organizations, United Way, you know,
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Big Brothers, Big Sisters, many of the local things there. They were wonderful philanthropists, but they had just become very well established. But we—you know, there—there has been—the question during that time frame of how—how many bombs, you know, how many times do—do we need to be able to blow up the earth, you know, is two hundred enough, is five hundred too many? So, many of the pacifists in the area began to question, you know, whether or not we needed to continue in production and there—there was some civil disobedience and the—the Peace Farm formed in the early
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80’s and there—there—the whole time frame for the repository and for what was going on in Pantex became more known in the public eye than it had in—in times past.
DT: Can you talk about the origins of the Peace Farm that you mentioned at one point the group clergy and (inaudible).
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TK: Yes, in the late 70’s, in late 78’ or 79’, there was a—a clergyman in Amarillo named Steven Schrader and he formed Clergy and Laity Concerned, which was a hope of more interdenominational based membership and my friend Genevieve Miller, who was a Lutheran and a good neighbor, had taken me to one of the meetings and Les Breeding, who was the—was the founder of the Peace Farm, was at those early meetings and—and
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we talked about the—the nuclear proliferation issue, you know, how—how that theologically affected humanity and how realistically it was affecting world politics. We had some really good discussions. Steven did go in the very early part of the 80’s to New York to teach theology and has not been back. But, I think that—that that was a—was the—the beginnings of the idea for developing a Peace Farm.
DT: What were some of the theological concerns about proliferation, reliance on nuclear weapons?
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TK: Whether or not it was—was proper use of—of technology. You know, if—you know, if—if it was spiritually and ethically a thing to do to create weapons of mass destruction that could—could not only kill hundreds of people but many thousands of people. And, you know, just the—the basic question of—of how much is enough and, you know, when do we over state our point of being well protected and begin to look in the world as though we’re of a danger ourselves.
DT: Can you talk a little bit about how the, I guess, SANE Freeze grew out of some of these early efforts that were localized and maybe sort of isolated?
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TK: How the what? Would you repeat the question?
DT: How the SANE Freeze – the effort to try and freeze the number of nuclear weapons?
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TK: Well, you know, I’m not familiar with that. That’s not something I know about.
DT: Maybe you can tell us a little bit more about how efforts at the Peace Farm continued—especially what happened at the end of the Cold War and whether the—the whole sort of calculus changed that?
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TK: Yes, there was a great deal of discussion among the—the Department of Energy Weapons Complex as to how to downsize and—and what to do with the facilities, whether or not to—to reprocess the plutonian pits, you know, questions of that nature. And the—and the Department of Energy became, at the end of 80’s, which would have been 89’ to 90’ became willing to be cooperative in—in looking for citizen’s input.
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The—the systems groups in Amarillo, STAND and the Peace Farm had been asking for this type of activity for quite some time and they—and they were willing to do it. They brought in a public relations person who was able to work through all the issues that were important to every one from all sides of the issue and—and put that together. And it operated from, I think, around 1990 until recently when it was dissolved for national security reasons.
DT: And what were some of the issues you addressed—did they include some of the contamination of the aquifer?
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TK: Yes, there—there was—early in the 90’s, I served on the—the Pantex plant citizens advisory board and there was a great deal of discussion about the Perched Aquifer that was contaminated on the site. At that time, we didn’t know about Ogallala contamination off the site, but it was very strongly suspected. Perched Aquifer was believed to be migrating waters that met a—a harder surface that they didn’t just go
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directly down into the aquifer and so that they pooled up. And there was one under a playa lake where some munitions type chemicals had been disposed of for a couple decades, maybe longer, and that water was very definitely contaminated. We did spend a lot of time talking about that and talking about how—how to clean it up and if it were possible to clean it up and where the responsibility was. We—we were not really
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allowed decision making, but we could offer suggestions to the Department of Energy as a board and we—we worked through consensus. If everyone didn’t agree, it didn’t happen. And most of our time was spent on coordinating and consensus building. It—it was quite a—a legged animal, you know, it was—it was very, very difficult to—to manage and to work with, but it was also exciting that there was an opportunity for shared information.
DT: Maybe you could talk a little bit about the whole issue of getting information out of the Department of Energy, which I guess has sometimes been difficult because they have ties to national security.
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TK: Yes, it had been very difficult prior to the Freedom of Information Act and—and then even afterwards filing for information could take months, more than a year to—to get information from the Department of Energy. I can certainly understand the need for—for ca—for moving with caution and—and certain kinds of information being shared. But information about individuals who had become ill as a result of their
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employment at Pantex, that information was very difficult to come by—cancer comparisons and studies that the Department of Energy had—had undertaken. Then, also—also the water contamination that just—getting them to look at and—and realize the potential for the water contamination with the Ogallala. And it was there, I mean, as—I think as—as you’ve learned that—it took awhile for it to become known, but it was there.
DT: Did you manage to get any help from whistle blowers and trying to understand the scope of problems and issues at Pantex?
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TK: Yes, there—there was—was one gentleman that was—was very vocal. He had—he had become ill as—as a result of twenty years employment and so he began to speak out about it. I—you know, I don’t remember too many details about that, so I hope that—that some that were more involved could help fill in the details.
DT: And how did the community’s dealings with Pantex change after September 11th, 2001?
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TK: With the—with dissolving the citizens advisory board. That—that was the primary thing and I—I’m sure that the—that we’re just now beginning to hear some new rumblings of going back to weapons production, because Pantex had primarily been disassembly over the last decade, at—and—and pit storage. There are some bunkers
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there where the plutonian pits are stored and guarded closely and I’m sure that the concern about those is—is much greater now and that—that being sure that they’re protected and that—that there’s no public ac—access to that—those plutonian pits is very important. But there has, you know, there’s been little in the news, just very little with exceptions of statements about security concerns.
DT: Did you feel that there was a consensus in your citizen’s task force, assistance advisory board, about the need to shut down the board and to perhaps restart production of nuclear weapons?
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TK: My term had finished by that time. I think my term en—finished in 94’ or 95’, so I had not been on the board for quite some time. And, you know, I’m not sure if—if the board itself was supportive. The newspaper articles didn’t sound as though it was. But I would like to go back and talk a little bit about the lives of the people that were affected because that’s the part of the story that I always had felt was—was very neglected, you
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know, there was so much political activity, so many amendments offered, so many lobbying trips made, but—but the way that these kinds of issues affect individuals is very life changing. That—with a group of landowners in particular in the site that was identified in Deaf Smith County, they had, up until that point, had no reason to—to question their leadership in the nation. They had no reason to question the—the nuclear industry and the activities. They were primarily an age of people over fifty and very
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patriotic, very community-loving and community-minded people. But the—the life-changing events was that it was so intense, you know, for about three years time, it was so intense of having to focus much of—of their day on meetings that needed to be attended, letters that needed to be written, attorney’s bills that had to be paid, things of this nature and with so many organizations trying to work in tandem, there were a lot of
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meetings to attend and what to keep up with. And this—this group of people, you know, shortly after 1987 Donald Hick’s health began to fade. I know that age as an issue in itself, that—that this is a natural process, but it seemed to happen very rapidly with the—with the people that were very intensely involved. Georgia Aukerman was diagnosed in 1990 with MS. Carry Styert has—has been in a wheelchair all of—or most of her adult life, you know, the—the health concerns—she had to just—she had intended to write in—in the early 90’s and just couldn’t do it because of the strong emotion that it evoked. Wayne Richardson and his wife of thirty years divorced.
DT: Is there a way to characterize their feelings toward the government and the Department of Energy in particular? Was it one of just sadness or betrayal?
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TK: A—a very growing cynicism. I mean it—it grew very quickly that this kind of thing—thing could happen. It could happen in a—in a quiet rural community where no one was making any waves. There was quite a bit of cynicism and definitely a lot of hurt. You know, as I’d mentioned before with Donald Hicks, he is—you know, with his church and—and his community involvements, he—he had very definitely felt betrayed
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that—that he—that—the community was willing to sacrifice him and his property for the short-term income that the Department of Energy could bring into the community during the, you know, the construction and—and life of the repository. I don’t know that—that things would have been any different for these people, but I don’t know that they would have—wouldn’t have been, you know. I’ve often wondered if—if people’s health might have stayed better or—or, you know, if the quality of life would have been better without these kind of intrusions.
DT: Do you think that the process worked for them or was there a failure in the way the democratic due process was supposed…
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TK: Oh, definitely not. You know, that was the—the beacon of hope is that the—is that the process that we’ve established works. You’d have to work it really hard at—and you cannot take the process lightly and you cannot take time off, you know, when—when there is a—an issue of this nature, political or environmental. We’ve established some very good systems in the United States and—and they work.
DT: One thing that I’ve found is very interesting about the whole struggle over the high level site was that it seems like it crossed a lot of political boundaries—from what I understand there are Democrats and Republicans, there were trade groups involved, there were (inaudible), there were rural people, suburban people.
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TK: Oh yes, yes.
DT: Can you talk a little bit about how you formed these bridges and tried to maintain a coalition?
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DT: Let’s resume, I think we were asking you about the coalition that you and others helped forged between people in either side of the political spectrum from different kinds of trade groups and some individuals who maybe were unaffiliated. I was wondering how you managed to keep that group together and if there were any schisms that you saw that arose?
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TK: I—I would like to give all of the credit for being able to do that to Delbert Devin. He was just very, very open to working with what might have been termed as tree huggers or the pacifist hippies. You know, he was open to whatever and in many occasions this group of farming, commodity representing men were sitting down at the table with some guys with long hair or, you know, things that they probably wouldn’t of
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had in common with people before. But the—but they came together and they were very open to it and I think Delbert—one thing that I didn’t mention before that was in—in 1986 when Deaf Smith County’s landowners were identified and it was, this is a characterization spot, Swisher County was eliminated. So at that time, Delbert Devin and the STAND from Tulia could have had just dropped away and gone about their—or
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resume their lives as they were before, but they didn’t. They hung in there with us and they—they continued to—to lead, you know, with—with Delbert leading the—the task force. He was our director and drove to the office that had been donated by the corn growers—he drove to Dimmitt every day and—and manned that office and made sure that all the phone calls were answered and so forth. So I really think it was—was with his strong leadership. But I also think that the issue itself, because, you know, the—the
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group of—of people in this area that were identified as affected and—and their land was—was marked, that I think that it wasn’t something that they were used to. You know, I don’t think that they were—were used to causing a political stink or—or having to be very involved. You know, and as I mentioned to you, I have mused since a—about how odd the circumstance was in—in that day in 1986, whenever I called them up and said, you know, the Department of Energy has targeted your property and let’s get
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together and talk about it. And, you know, this is who I am and—and they all just said, yes, you know, I was in my mid twenties and these men were all near or beyond fifty and I just thought how unusual it was that they listened to me and that they believed what I had to say. But we, very quickly, formed a coalition, and not a one of them said I want to sell, I’m done, you know, count me out—not a one of them. They were—they were all willing to do what they needed to do to preserve the aquifer and—and to preserve their property for future generations.
DT: You talked about the role of Delbert Devin and some of these other participants, what do you think your role was in trying to shepherd this effort along?
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TK: Well, I don’t know what my role was. Early on, you know, I served as an officer in POWER, then as—as we moved into the days of the nuclear waste task force, then I became POWER’s representative and we shifted the officers to include more people. But—but mostly because I had the willingness to speak and the ability to travel, I just was a traveling companion for Delbert Devin and together we—we did most of the
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lobbying. There were some meetings where we had congressional days—we’d go to a meeting in Washington and then we’d have, you know, this is a day to—to speak to your representatives and we would all divide up. But then there were also the times when we just needed to go and—and—and talk about a specific as—aspect of the issue. So I—I went to Austin very many times with Delbert and Washington D.C. very many times.
DT: Can you recount any of those trips to D.C. or to Austin?
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TK: Well, the very first one that we took, we went to one of the annual meetings at the Department of Energy would hold for the repository search. The Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management’s annual meeting, I think was the term and we went to one of their meetings. Delbert didn’t want to do it and Georgia didn’t want to do it because they, you know, they didn’t want to go to the other side, but I felt that this was very important to go and pick up the literature, listen to what they’re telling one another
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at the meetings, and drink a glass of wine with these guys, you know, see—see what’s going on. So—so we did and—and they both agreed later that—that it was a good thing
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to do. There was one trip to Washington where sometimes some of the citizen’s organizations like Citizen’s Clearinghouse for Hazardous Waste or Public Citizen would—would have a member that would offer for us to come into their home. And one—on one particular occurrence, Georgia went to Washington with me and we ended up staying in the home of one of the activists and she lived in a completely different environment than the way we live here in the Panhandle. She lived in a four story
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house—well it was four stories because of the basement, it was three stories plus the basement, but there was someone different that lived on each story, different family or different group of people and then they shared a—a community kitchen among them and they—they shared this for housing costs. And we—we were given a—a room to stay in on the second floor and I just remember this being a really different thing for Georgia. Somehow, I adapt to change very well, but she just wondering if the sheets were clean,
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you know, is it okay if we go into the kitchen and get something to eat. You know, it was very different from the way life is in the Panhandle of Texas. But some of those experiences were very good for all of us to—to broaden our horizons and—and expose us to—to other things in the United States other than the Texas Panhandle.
DT: Can you comment maybe on how the experience with the waste site and fighting it and working with your neighbors changed you?
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TK: I don’t know, they would probably all have something to say about that, but, you know, I was—I was very young and—and just doing what seemed important to be done. There wasn’t someone speaking up and—and so it just seemed important to be done so I did it. I don’t know if—if I’m just that strong minded or if there was a—was a stronger influence, but it all came together and it—it worked out very well and of course bonds of
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friendship that have—have lasted decades—so I’m very pleased about that. And I specifically enjoyed meeting the—the varied people and the opportunity to eat foods that are different to me and get to know them. I really enjoyed that. And most of the people, which, you know, I don’t—I don’t want to sound ugly, but most of the people were much more educated than—than the—my general friends and neighbors here in the Texas Panhandle and I felt that that broadened my horizons a tremendous amount and I enjoyed it.
DT: Speaking of education, I’m curious what lessons you might have taken from this fight against the high-level site to this recent struggle against the city of Hereford’s proposal to build a municipal site—waste site on the outskirts of town.
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TK: I think that it was be—there are some strong connections between the repository issue and this particular thing. Of course at—in 1987 when—when the issue was ended for us, I had children going into junior high school and—and that was—became—junior high and high school was much more demanding than—than infants and I had never anticipated that, but that’s a—another lengthy story. But—so I just kind of immersed myself in going to ballgames and debate tournaments and—and all the things that—that
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were required and keeping up with prom dresses and, you know, so forth. And so I really wasn’t involved in what was going on environmentally, so in 2000 when the city of Hereford applied to the Texas Natural Resources Conservation Commission, they—I wasn’t paying a lot of attention. You know, I—I don’t pay city taxes, I don’t get to use the municipal dump, I don’t get to have municipal water where I live, so I wasn’t paying attention. One of our neighbors came to us in May of 2001 and said, TNRCC is holding
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a—a hearing about this, would you come and listen? So we did and that night what I heard, I—I was just so astounded that the—that the city commissioners or Aller Engineering that they had hired to—to write their proposal, their application for the permit to TNRCC, you know, I was astounded that none of them had—had caught that that the aquifer was between sixty and sixty-seven feet deep, that there were neighboring springs that flowed, you know, twenty-four hours a day, year round, and never ceased
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right there in the area, even in very dry summers when we’re irrigating out of the aquifer, the—one of these springs in particular continues to flow and the people that live down there stood up and talked about it and, you know, they—they wrote it down and—and taped the conversation, but then in February of 2002 when it came out, when the TNRCC
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response came out, they said that by the end of February, they were going to—to grant the—the permit and that they really found, you know, nothing of particular concern in the comments that were brought up. So, at that time, John Templer called me, who was—who was one—owns a ranch there, he happens to live in—in Amarillo and he’s neighbors with a man named Bruce Campbell who was the manager for Mason and Hanger when they were—were the contractor for the Department of Energy at Pantex and I had gotten
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to know Bruce during my time on the Citizen’s Advisory Board and so Bruce tells him to call me. He says, I think you need to call Tonya, I think she could help. So I came home that day to a message from Bruce saying that he had—had given my name and telephone number to John Templer and, you know, would I talk to him. Of course I had been visiting with Wade Lewis who owns the property nearest to the site that—that Hereford applied for the landfill. Hereford really started out with very good intentions. The—the
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city council—they owned four sections of—of land, they needed to build a new wastewater treatment plant, they thought that, at the time in 2000 that should they need it, that—that they would apply for a permit. I don’t even know if any of these council people knew how deep the water was when—when they originally started the process. So, you know, it—it would—wouldn’t have affected very many people if they could do it on their own property. I—I kind of thought that it was a bit of irony for mother nature that they only property they owned in the county has the most shallow water. If you—we’re four miles north of—of that location here and our water’s three hundred feet deep.
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All over the county, it’s generally, you know, in that vicinity, three to four hundred feet deep, especially when you go west. So, this shallow water is such an anomaly in the county and it’s the property the city owns. So, I—I told John Templer, I said, well, you know, let’s all get together and—and talk about this before the end of the month because we were going to have to file for contested case hearing before—before the first of March or—or the city would have the permit. So, Wade Lewis arranged for a meeting and—
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and let the other landowners know which was Ronny and Kay Mahaley and Roy and Renee Johnson. So we met at the community center in Hereford and they said, you know, John Templer was really outspoken, I think Bruce Campbell had, you know, explained things to him well. He said, I don’t think we need to go to a local attorney, we need an environmental attorney, someone who has done this before. We don’t have a lot of time, we need to—to move on this. And—and the other folks, which were all
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ranchers, said sounds good to me. So I had agreed to—to make some phone calls and see who I could find. I had thought that we might have someone in Amarillo that was involved in the STAND board, so I—I called Sandra Webb in Amarillo and she didn’t have time in the two week time frame we had to get the contested case hearing filed to do it, so she called me back the next day and said I found somebody, it’s Rick Lowry. And I said, I would have called him first, but I just imagined that he was too busy, you know, on two weeks notice to get something like this accomplished. But he agreed to do it and
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we provided maps and information and—and he got the contested case hearing filed—or the request for it. The—the commission meeting that they had set to determine if they were going to grant the contested case hearing was in June the 26th of this year. Most of the commissioners and the city manager that were interviewed, once, you know, it was news that we had filed, said it wasn’t very likely that we would be granted a hearing, you know, that they had all their “P’s” crossed and “I’s” dotted and—and that the application was well done and—and that it would be okay.
DT: Can you describe that petition because I understood that the landfill didn’t have either a liner or the slope sides that many landfills would have and it wasn’t a very protected design, is that true?
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TK: Yes, it was because of the arid exemption and the arid exemption allows for areas with an annual rainfall of twenty-five inches or less to dig their pits without protection, without lining, sloping sidewalls, which you would have to do to line. That—with the assumption that if—if you get less than twenty-five inches of rainfall a year it’s not going to permeate. But especially here in the Panhandle where we receive snow, that’s not always the case. December a year ago we received twenty inches of snow, you know, it
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took a month to melt. That setting on top of a—of a—of a landfill mound, it would have permeated, you know, it would have—it would have melted from the ground up first and—and seeped through. I think that the arid exemption is beginning to be looked at again because there was some things that when it was created that the—that we just didn’t think about to include. But they were—were definitely within the arid exemption in filing for that. They had to have less acreage…
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TK: So, when the—when the news came out that—that we had filed, you know, there was quite a bit of doubt that—that the TNRCC would grant the—the contested case hearing. The city manager at Hereford had reported to one of the reporters that it would be completely out of character for them to do that. So, they certainly didn’t anticipate that—that it would make a difference. Well the hearing was held then on June the 26th, only Roy Johnson was able to attend because the rest of us were very involved in the
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growing season already. And so he—he did go and went with Rick Lowry and quite to everyone’s amazement, the contested case hearing was granted. And the executive director had, in the meantime, recommended that they—they limit those that are affected because we had submitted a group of affected parties and executive director wanted to limit that to just one of two people that were—were very close to the landfill site. But the commission, when—when it—the final ruling came out was they included everybody. They said that everyone had filed had just cause and they included everyone. The—I
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think the city attorney and the manager were—were very much in shock at that time, they—they never anticipated that—that that could happen. So we—we just con—continued at that point to—to—to follow the contested case hearing process because that was the only way it was—was going to be stopped. So the TNRCC then set the next step in the process for September 19th, which was to be held in Hereford. In the meantime, somewhere in early August or late July, the commission met and they were to discuss
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whether or not they were to allow their attorney to talk with Rick Lowry, you know, whether or not they were to negotiate on any of the items of concern. And at that meeting, you know, they voted unanimously, but what it came out reported the next day in the newspaper was that they had—had voted to go ahead with the landfill. There was a little discussion about the landfill, mostly from those in attendance, but, you know, the—the vote was specifically for giving permission for the city attorney. So we—we really
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weren’t sure and after that meeting the—the mayor came up to a group of us, his name is Bob Josher and he’s a very successful cattleman in the area. And he had said, you know, he—he suspected that it was going to turn out the way we wanted to if we just wouldn’t push too hard—that he didn’t want us pushing some of the commissioners into making a decision that they would regret later. You know, I really mused about that later. I really wasn’t sure, you know, if—if we should, you know, lighten up on public education, you know, how we should handle it, but another twist of irony in this is that the—the man that lives closest owns the—the property with the springs also works as manager of one of
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Bob Josher’s feed yards. So, you know, I spoke with him and he said, you know, I really think that, you know, the hearing is coming up in September, I think we need to—to just continue with the process and do what we were going to do. So we—we continued on to develop a citizen’s organization because it was our intent at the time with Rick’s advice that we submit a citizen’s organization in place of some of the landowners when we went to the September 19th hearing. So the—the news came out then in early September that
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the organization was forming. In fact, the—the newspaper editor referred to it as a—a local pack organization. So, we have no chart or anything, you know, we just wanted to put together what we were calling the water heritage group and allow an opportunity for people who live in town, but can’t prove they’re affected because of proximity, you know, to—to be participate and have a voice in—in the process. The very next week was the Monday before the September 19th hearing and that was the regularly scheduled city
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commission meeting and the manager called and—and asked for us to be there and we went and they voted unanimously to with—withdraw their permit application. The next day the letter that the city attorney wrote withdrew it with prejudice, which means that they can never reapply—that that particular piece of land can never be considered again. So we—we were all in complete shock and the—the major was so very gracious in—in—when he spoke with the Amarillo newspaper the next day, he said, they pointed out the water concerns to us in the beginning, we ignored them, they took their concerns to
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Austin—Austin and we started to listen. So, you know, he said we were wrong and—and we recognized it and we wanted to correct the situation. So, I—I was just very amazed. You know, earlier in the summer, I really thought that it—that the problem wasn’t that there was a potential for contamination, but the problem was going to be egos of people who had a great amount of time invested in reading application permits, trying to make decisions, and, you know, at the last minute when they were about to be granted the
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permit, we intercede with the contested case hearing request. I thought that was going to be the problem, but I have to admit I was wrong, you know, the major was very, very gracious about realizing that there was potential water contamination. Each of the commissioners went around and spoke that night and said, you know, that there was a-a glimmer of a chance of contamination that they—they didn’t want to do that and that they wanted to correct it. So, two weeks later on a Sunday afternoon we held a—appreciation
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hamburger cookout down by one of the springs on Wade Lewis’s place. The one commissioner that was angry and—and voted that night—he voted with them, he said to keep from—keep us from causing them to spend more money, but not because they were wrong. He came to the—he was one of the few, there were two commissioners only plus the major that came to the appreciation cookout, and he came. So, you know, I was—I was very impressed with the quality of character of our local leaders and really struck by the difference in our community and people’s openness to listen and—and to—and to consider possibilities in—in the last fifteen years.
DT: Maybe you can look back over your experience over these last fifteen years and—I’m curious what lessons you’ve drawn from being involved in the high-level waste struggle and then this municipal effort that you were involved in more recently. What sort of message have you gotten from this about either the problems waste faces or the problems of organizing citizens around a common goal? What have you learned?
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TK: I think that—that time and population has just—has just changed the—the character of the—of the way we function as a group and in communities. And what I mean is that the—the amount of information to us about growing populations and available fresh water, the—in this area where it does rain less than twenty-five inches a year, you know, where we’re completely dependent on the Ogallala Aquifer and whether or not it depletes at a certain rate or it doesn’t—we—people have had to learn to pay
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attention to those kinds of things because the vast openness where we can just take waste and dispose of them no longer exists because of population growth and worldwide the way consumption affects waste on a global level. You know there’s no way to escape it and there’s no way to escape it in the news and so I think that—that people are certainly beginning to think more about interacting with our environment for pre—our own preservation as opposed to a word that I heard recently used about dam construction was subjugating the earth and I thought, you know, that really explains a lot that—that in, you know, in that time when the—when the dams were being built along the Grand Canyon
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that it was a—a, you know, it was a real challenge for—for man to subjugate the—the earth, if I’m saying that correctly. And—and we’ve had to move a little ways away from that because we’ve—we’ve learned that in—in some ways we can’t do that. That when humanity is gone the earth is going to heal itself and clean up the air and clean up the water and—and we don’t mean anything to the earth, we’re—we’re just trouble.
DT: So you think that the message is one of humility of consciousness of the limits of the earth—humility about technology or understanding the constraints of the natural resources?
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TK: Well, understanding of the con—constraints of natural resources along with—with some humility too, that—that we cannot control the natural elements. You know, there’s so much that we understand about it, but there’s also so much that we don’t. And this little plot of—of land down here is—is a very good example because the—while the water is sixty-seven feet deep in that one spot, as you move toward the Tierra Blanca
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Creek, there are springs that—that are—are flowing—some not more than a mud puddle, but at least one that—that flows twenty gallons a minute in the heat of summer. You know, it doesn’t run down the creek very far, but we—but it let’s us know that there’s some characteristic going on there in terms of hydrology that we don’t’ necessarily understand because they—they don’t know if it’s water on its way to the aquifer, if it’s
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water coming from the aquifer being pushed up through fissures in the rock, or if it’s just the water puddling in the shallow areas and moving over there. And when we talked with representatives of the high planes underground water district out of Lubbock, they said they’re simply was not enough information about the hydrology in that area for them to—to make a definitive statement about what was going on or how it might happen. You
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know, they’re—they’re just areas beneath the earth where we can—we can drill holes but we can’t see and we—we certainly can’t control when it rains and where it rains. And I think that as a whole, that there is some humility about that. You know, during the industrial era as we came into that, it seemed that we were going to learn to control everything and—and we’re not. I mean, we’ve just come to the point where—where we have to understand we can’t—we have to learn to interact.
DT: Looking to the future, what do you see as being the big challenges and opportunities in conservation—is it trying to understand the limits of what we’re technically able to do or is other issues that you haven’t discussed so far?
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TK: The—the short-term ones that we’re going to have to look at are going to be water management and—and waste management.
DT: What are your big concerns in those respects for the Panhandle?
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TK: For the Panhandle we have BFI who has a regional landfill near Canyon. You know, we—we know what the lim—the life of the permit for it is, but we don’t know what the—the realistic life of the landfill is going to be, you know, if water contaminating is discovered or if BFI should have any financial difficulties than all of the smaller communities that are sending waste there will have to deal with their own. And
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the—the issue for Hereford continues to be what will we do with it, you know, what is plan B if BFI for some reason can no longer take the truck loads that go over there daily. The—the four sections that the city owns are all within a six-mile radius to the municipal airport. After their application was filed in 2000, there was a new EPA ruling about
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landfills being sighted within the six-mile radius. So from this point forward, none of that property is acceptable for landfill site. So, the—the city will eventually have to look beyond that and some place else for land filling. And that—so that brings about the questions about waste stream, you know, how do you limit the—the amount of stuff that goes into your landfills so that you have less to deal with?
DT: So you mentioned some of the waste management issues, can you talk just briefly about the water management questions that concern you? Is it about the water supply?
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TK: Yes, available water supply, you know, specifically. The conservation measures that need to be taken so that a growing population can live off the limited amount of fresh water that we have available. You know, reservoirs in the Panhandle help, but when we’re having times of drought and the reservoirs are going down, you know, there’s a complete dependency on the Ogallala Aquifer. So we just need to—to be very conscientious about that, not only in growing crops that consume less water, but
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managing our water better, in—in town as well, you know, watering lawns, growing plants that—that are less water dependent more xeriscaping, things of that nature. We’re going to have to give it a lot of thought all across Texas because we—we have learned, you know, that it’s feast or famine, it’s either raining until the water’s knee deep, or it doesn’t rain for years. So there’s going to take some water management to be able to be sure that there’s municipal water available.
DT: Considering the challenges you’ve mentioned, what sort of advice would you give to your children or when they arrive your grandchildren how to respond to some of these problems?
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TK: That’s a very good question. You know, I think that in terms of environment to pay attention, you know, pay attention to what—how your energy consumption affects the atmosphere of the earth—pay attention how your water consumption and your waste disposal—pay attention so that you’re not being more a part of the problem than necessary. This—and education—I remember in the 60’s when I was in grade school, we had a lot of Friday afternoon films and during that time frame, there—it was the time frame when the clean water act and you know, many of the clean air and—and
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environmental laws were coming into affect because we had so many polluted rivers and that’s what our films were about. Our films were about pollution. I asked my children, when they were going to grade school, you know, are you seeing any films about river pollution or air pollution and they—they were—no, they weren’t seeing anything like that. So, you know, I—I think that—that public education and being part of the solution is much better than being part of the problem.
DT: One last question we usually ask people, a lot of people are I guess energized to work on these environmental problems because they care about a particular part of their world, part of their land, and I was wondering if there is a particular spot that has that kind of meaning for you—a place that gives you a sense of beauty and serenity? Is there any place like that you could describe?
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TK: All of them. We—it just seems that each place has such a—a unique thing about it. Near here is Palo Duro Canyon where we have spent a great deal of time hiking and ad—admiring the Spanish skirts affects in the rocks and in the cliff sides. The Texas Panhandle sunsets are—are just beyond measure, they are some of the most gorgeous sunsets in the world. Their—you know most of the natural environmental places in—in Texas that I have been, the hill country, you know, with the live oak trees, each place has—has something very unique and if we—if we understood the—the full theory of
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the—the butterfly wing effect around the world, you know, we’d see a little bit more about how each one of these places affects the—the global environment and the—and the continuation of—of the earth’s process. But they—every—every one of them has something unique. And—and I’m not above changing things because with having been a—a lifelong avid gardener, you know, I experiment a lot with—with plants and—and what works. And—and certainly I get a lot of peace from working in the garden.
DT: Thanks for telling us about your work and your life and best wishes.
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TK: Oh thank you.
End of reel 2248
End of interview with Tonya Kleuskens