Politics & Government

Estill leader criticizes state for keeping county in dark about radioactive waste

Estill County Judge-Executive Wallace Taylor spoke Tuesday to the Interim Joint Committee on Natural Resources and the Environment in Frankfort about the illegal dumping of lower-level radioactive waste in an Estill County landfill.
Estill County Judge-Executive Wallace Taylor spoke Tuesday to the Interim Joint Committee on Natural Resources and the Environment in Frankfort about the illegal dumping of lower-level radioactive waste in an Estill County landfill. gkocher@herald-leader.com

Estill County Judge-Executive Wallace Taylor was critical Tuesday of the state’s conduct in regard to the illegal dumping of out-of-state radioactive waste at an Estill landfill.

In an address to the Interim Joint Committee on Natural Resources and Environment, Taylor said he is irritated by “the lack of communication from the state government to local government.”

Taylor said the county wants more information that the state has collected about the dumping of nearly 2,000 tons of low-level radioactive waste generated by drilling in Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia. The waste was the byproduct from fracking, a drilling technique that has been used to extract natural gas from underground in the Northeast.

“I would ask for more information,” Taylor said. “I want to be able to give it to my people that I represent every day.”

Kentucky regulators were notified in July 2015 that West Virginia had approved a plan for radioactive waste to be dumped in Estill County, but officials there didn’t learn about the dumping until February. That month, Kentucky regulators put landfills on notice that radioactive shipments could be headed their way.

But state officials never called Taylor or the local health department about the matter, said Thomas Hart, a member of Concerned Citizens of Estill County, a new group that is raising awareness about the waste.

Did state officials “not think this might be of interest to the citizens of Estill County?” Hart said in a separate address to legislators.

Taylor said he learned about the dumping from a television reporter, yet “the state had known about it for weeks, months. That is unfair to my people. I’m not trying to be harsh. I just want to be notified.”

State Sen. Brandon Smith, R-Hazard, said state agencies should do whatever they can to assist Estill County.

“The state ought to be helping you and not hindering you in any way,” Smith said.

State Attorney General Andy Beshear announced last week that no criminal charges will be filed in regard to the dumping, but the state Cabinet for Health and Family Services said it will seek civil penalties against several companies for the illicit dumping. In addition, Estill County Fiscal Court filed a civil suit last week against the company that operates the landfill and others for alleged violations of the host agreement with the county.

The state withheld some information because a criminal investigation was underway. But now that the criminal investigation has ended, a summary of that information should be released, Hart said.

Taylor said the county is investigating the possibility of pursuing criminal charges. He said later that no evidence has been presented to a local grand jury.

Tom FitzGerald, director of the Kentucky Resources Council, said the Estill County public library should be a repository of state documents about the dumping so local citizens don’t have to file Open Records requests for information.

“I would hope the attorney general’s office would release the documents from their investigation so we can see the full picture of what happened and can better understand the decision not to bring criminal charges for this activity,” FitzGerald said.

In addition, Taylor told legislators that Estill County will “demand better surveillance at the landfill.”

In the future, the county will require “that there has to be equipment put in place by the landfill that we can detect any type of radioactive material,” Taylor said.

Meanwhile, the state Energy and Environment Cabinet is in settlement discussions with Advanced Disposal, the company that operates the Blue Ridge Landfill in Estill, relating to a notice of violation in March. The cabinet has said it will seek public comment on any agreement.

Greg Kocher: (859) 231-3305, @HLpublicsafety

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