Uranium Contamination: Not Much Progress In 30 Years - SMSC Offers Organic Foods
By Kathy Helms
GRANTS – Larry Carver has lived in Murray Acres since 1964. He says residents there believe they are the most affected by water problems due to uranium contamination, which they attribute largely to the former Homestake Mill.
He had several questions for federal and state officials gathered Tuesday evening in Grants regarding a five-year plan they are working on to clean up legacy uranium waste in the Grants Mining District, but mostly he wanted to know, “How is it going to speed up the cleanup of the water and the health hazards out here? “It's been 30 since we started this in 1975 and really, I can't see a whole lot of progress in that 30 years,” he said.
Donna Bahar of New Mexico Environment Department's Ground Water Quality Bureau said she couldn't specifically address when and how the plan will speed cleanup, but at least now all of the agencies are at the table.
“We're talking to each other and part of the plan is pooling resources, setting priorities and hopefully starting to address the immediate health threat and working down the line. When I first started to be involved in this discussion it was just EPA and NMED,” she said.
Johnnie Head, who also lives near Homestake and is a member of the Bluewater Valley Downstream Alliance, asked about tests the agencies are conducting on wells north of Homestake.
“We have studies and samples that were taken in 1958 and 1962 that show two wells that were fine at that time, before Homestake Mill became part of what are now contaminated areas. So we know that at that time, just north of Homestake, there was good water.”
Head said it is her understanding that the agencies will be conducting urine sampling from some of the residents living in the study area. “It's too bad that couldn't have been done 30 years ago. I don't know how quickly uranium comes and goes through a person's body ... and I'm not sure anybody is drinking from the wells that had been in the past.”
Thanks to the efforts of the New Mexico Mining and Minerals Department, she said, 12 people who previously had been drinking what was considered “bad water,” have now been hooked up to alternate systems. “I don't know if maybe the pipes that brought that bad water into a house would continue to put that into your system ... but that's something I would be concerned about.”
Head also questioned whether residents living near Homestake could use water from their wells for other purposes. “We're ready to do gardens this year. We've been at this 30 years – we should have good water by now. We'd like to use our wells to raise our gardens instead of paying Milan the water bill that we're paying.
“No one has said, 'Your water is good now. Thanks to Homestake's efforts for the last 35 to 40 years, you can now use your well.' I'm concerned about that. I believe in my heart – and I've talked to a lot of people about this – the only way you're going to ever, ever clean up the mess that we live around is to move that big pile, because that's a continual source of contamination,” she said.
Paul Robinson, research director for Southwest Research and Information Center in Albuquerque told agency representatives that the scope of the problem the five-year plan is attempting to address is very narrow and the plan they are sculpting leaves a lot of things off the table.
“The idea that this scope of issues can be identified, much less addressed, without a comprehensive budget, I think, is giving the community less than it deserves.” He said the agencies also are not taking the time to build a public communication and fact-finding program that invests in the people.
“People that live in the communities want to be involved in the cleanup,” he said, adding that a one month comment period on a five-year plan is “token community involvement. ... If you want serious comments on a five-year document, you need to treat the people more seriously.” He suggested they open a permanent office in Grants. “There's plenty of office space available.”
John Meyer of U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Region 6 in Dallas agreed that funding is one of the hurdles they have to overcome with the five-year plan. “Nobody got any additional funding to do this. It wasn't a directive given to us with a budget.
“It was a challenge given to all these agencies to find a way to deal with these issues within our existing budgets and programs, and that makes it difficult. We know that the only way we're going to have any meaningful impact is if we all work in tandem to get it done. Even if we had an extremely large budget, there are some problems that are just going to take a long time to address.”
Meyer said just because it's called a five-year plan doesn't mean they are done at the end of five years. “That's not the case at all.” It's a five-year plan because that is as far into the future as they felt comfortable projecting their current work. “I hope as we get further and further into this, we are able to put more things on a time-line that deal with addressing the problem rather than defining it.”
Petuch Gilbert from Acoma Pueblo said one of his concerns is how the cleanup is going to work in tandem with new uranium permits that are ongoing.
“The community here, all of us, have to somehow decide whether we are going to be pro-uranium mining or anti-uranium mining, and the only way for people to make up their minds is through information.”
New Shakopee Enterprise: Organic Foods And A Community Garden
by Tessa Lahto,
Prior Lake, MN – Next fall local residents will be able to purchase local, organic, and natural foods on the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community with the opening of the new Community operated natural food store. Also underway is an organic garden which is being planted for the first time this spring. In its first season, it will be planted, maintained, and harvested by volunteer Community members and staff. Depending on the level of success a small farmers market may be held in the community. Community member and Wellness Program Assistant Lori Watso, formerly the tribal Secretary/Treasurer is spearheading the project.
“A natural foods store is perfectly in line with our philosophy of protecting and preserving the environment for future generations. The organic garden we started is another example of how we are continuing to take care of the earth as Dakota people,” said SMSC Chairman Stanley R. Crooks. “By not using pesticides and other harmful chemicals, we will not only grow healthy foods but we will also leave a legacy of a healthy planet for future generations.”
The new enterprise will open by November 1, 2010, in the building behind the Dakota Mall and near Mystic Lake Casino Hotel. As part of the project, the SMSC will work to have the building LEED certified like its mirror image building, now occupied by South Metro Federal Credit Union. The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System is a voluntary, consensus-based national rating system for developing high-performance, sustainable buildings.
The new Community enterprise will focus on natural as well as locally produced foods, to serve the southern suburbs market. The 7,900 square foot building will offer meat, breads, dairy, frozen foods, personal care items, and more. A bulk product section will offer rice, beans, grains, and dried fruits. But fresh produce will be the focus.
“We plan to focus on foods which are grown locally and are natural or organic. Clean foods, those produced without the use of chemicals or antibiotics, are much healthier not only for people, but also for the earth,” said Lori.
“Local foods save on transportation costs, fuels, emissions, and all that it takes to get it here. If you choose organic foods because it supports the environment, then purchasing foods that have travelled long distances is shooting yourself in the foot. It also loses its freshness by being picked early, and its nutritional value can also be compromised by a long journey,” said Lori.
Freshly prepared dishes will be available at the deli and prepared meal area for takeout with daily lunch specials. Cafe seating and a demonstration food preparation area will be a focal point used to provide classes about healthy and clean eating.
“The first year or two this endeavor will be highly focused on education. There’s lots of information to be shared about healthy, clean foods. It could be that we need to start with some foods that are more familiar to people but our plan is to focus on organic, natural locally grown foods,” said Lori. “As people become more comfortable with real food and understand the potential harmful effects of processed foods -we hope to encourage more plant based options.”
“Our goal is improved health,” said Lori. “This will definitely be a benefit for Community members, SMSC employees, and the larger community.”
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