Emotional testimony from Native Americans and environmentalists helped convince the City Council on Monday to formally oppose trucking uranium-laced rubble through Spokane.
The council voted 4-1 to adopt a resolution asking the state to rescind Dawn Mining Co.’s license to ship tons of uranium wastes for burial in its defunct uranium-mill pit in Ford, Wash.
Dawn plans to transport up to 30 million cubic feet of the slightly contaminated wastes from Cold War disposal sites along the East Coast.
The council’s decision echoes a unanimous action taken by Spokane County commissioners in February asking the state to revoke the company’s license.
Both actions are largely symbolic. Neither the city nor the county has any legal power to stop the shipments.
Mayor Jack Geraghty voted in favor of the resolution, saying he decided months ago to stay neutral on the issue but recently changed his mind.
“There’s a logic flaw here,” Geraghty said. “This is one of the largest earth-moving events, moving from New Jersey to here.
“If it isn’t toxic, why are they moving it?” Councilwoman Cherie Rodgers, who pushed the resolution, agreed. “One place should not be subject to what others wouldn’t want in their own back yard.”
Councilman Mike Brewer was absent Monday. Councilman Jeff Colliton voted against the motion, saying he had questions for Dawn Mining about the plan, and no one from the company came to the meeting.
Councilwoman Phyllis Holmes abstained, saying she wanted to hear from proponents of the disposal plan.
At least 40 people opposed to the shipments sat in the council chambers. Several who spoke labeled the plan “environmental racism” because of the pit’s proximity to the Spokane Indian reservation.
“Why is it always near or on a reservation when they want to dump something?” said Dave BrownEagle, a tribal member. “What would happen if it were near Otis Orchard?”
“I view this as an overt act of disregard for the native people by mainstream big-money people,” said Dave Grant, a Standing Rock Sioux who lives in Spokane.
Under Dawn’s plan, about 40 large trucks, each hauling 60,000 pounds of uranium dirt, would travel from a Spokane rail yard to Ford. The trucks would run 260 days a year for five to seven years.
Proposals call for the trucks to be loaded at the Yardley rail yard, then head west on Interstate 90 to state Highway 231. But this route isn’t certain.
Julian Powers wondered if trucks might head up U.S. 395 on days when Highway 231 is closed.
Dawn Mining gets “huge profits … and take a look at all the goodies Spokane gets,” he said, flashing a list on an overhead that included congestion, air and noise pollution, a chance of radiation spills and road damage.
Councilman Orville Barnes said he supported the resolution but urged those opposed to the plan to take their concerns to Gov. Gary Locke and the state Department of Health.
“This body doesn’t have a great deal of authority in this matter,” he said. “A bigger body needs to be changed.”