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Daily Newspaper and Travel Guide
for Pecos Country of West Texas

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Monday, May 21, 2001

House committee blocks waste dump bill

From Staff and Wire Reports
PECOS, Monday, May 21, 2001 --  A Texas House committee has voted to block a bill that  would establish a low-level radioactive waste dump in West Texas.

The Senate bill also would have allowed the U.S. Department of Energy to ship waste to a separate proposed dump in Texas.

The House Calendars Committee, which sets bills for floor debate, voted 5-3 late Sunday not to schedule the Senate bill in the House. That effectively kills the legislation by Sen. Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock.

The Senate approved the measure earlier this month.

Five House Democrats on the calendars committee voted against the bill.

"It took a great deal of courage by these members of the House to stand up and say publicly that we're opposed to it," said Tom "Smitty" Smith, Texas director of the consumer group Public Citizen, which lobbied against the measure.

Since the settlement of a lawsuit between Dallas-based Waste Control Specialists and Utah-based Envirocare earlier this year, the odds have declined that a site located eight miles north of Barstow would become the home to the state's radioactive waste dump.

Envirocare had sought to locate an aboveground site there beginning in November 1999, but gave up rights to the site as part of their settlement with WCS, which hopes to locate the waste dump on land it owns in Andrews County, six miles east of Eunice, N.M.

Plans for the Barstow site were dealt a further blow when an amendment to the Senate bill was approved earlier this month that barred any low-level radioactive waste site from counties bordering either the Pecos River or Devils' River in West Texas and within 100 kilometers (62 miles) the U.S.-Mexico border. That amendment, by Sen. Eliot Shapleigh, D-El Paso, was also killed as part of Sunday's action by the House Calendar Committee, and would have to be re-introduced into any future legislation on radioactive waste, though local rancher Clark Lindley said the current bill could still make it to the floor of the House.

"It remains possible that WCS will get (representative) Gary Walker to attach the Senate bill to legislation to come before the House. But the calendar does not permit anything past today," said Lindley, who has been involved in the fight against the Ward County waste dump site.

Shane Cunningham, legislative assistant to Walker (R-Plains), said "I know they're still pushing to get it to the floor," but added "I don't think we're doing anything towards attaching the Senate bill to any other House measure scheduled for a vote."

Walker represents District 80 in the House of Representatives, which includes both Reeves County and the WCS site in Andrews County.

Smith predicted the legislation will return, possibly even in the final week of this session tacked onto some other bill.

"We're all for a responsible way of dealing with our radioactive waste, but this was an irresponsible way of dealing with that problem," he said.

The original Texas Radioactive Waste Compact stated that only waste from sites in Texas, Maine and Vermont would be eligible for disposal at the state's waste site. But the Senate bill included an amendment added on by Sen. Teel Bivins, R-Amarillo, which would have authorized a second site to handle U.S. Department Of Energy radioactive waste. Opponents feared that the government and other states would seek to use this second location for disposal of their radioactive waste materials.

Bivins' amendment was also opposed by Duncan, who said such a provision had killed the legislation in previous sessions.

"We are relieved, because we didn't want 300,000 cubic feet of DOE waste brought into Reeves County," Lindley said.

Duncan, whose District 28 in the Texas Senate includes northern Reeves County, said his legislation offered effective, strong safeguards to safely dispose of both state and federal waste.

"It's not something we can forever ignore," Duncan said.

Currently, the state has about 1,200 sites where low-level radioactive waste is stored. Setting up the compact would allow for the waste to be stored and managed at one site.

Low-level radioactive waste is a byproduct of medical, research and industrial activities. It also is produced through the operation of nuclear power plants.

Mexico continues holding Presidio man in slay case

PECOS, Monday, May 21, 2001 -- HOUSTON (AP) - As a Texas grocer remains in a Mexican jail on  a murder charge, some residents along the border question why he is still  in custody despite testimony that prosecutors' only witness -  a prostitute addicted to heroin - was jailed the night she says  she witnessed the killing.

Jesus Manuel Herrera Jr., a lanky 42-year-old who goes by the nickname Junie, was held without bond Monday on charges that he murdered a Mexican newspaper reporter.

"We are disgusted with what is happening; that's how the people feel," Maria Teresa Oates said as she shopped at a clothing store on the main street of Presidio.

Herrera is accused in the slaying of Jose Luis Ortega, a reporter for the Semanario Ojinaga. Herrera and his father own the H&H Supermarket in Presidio.

Earlier this month, U.S. Rep. Henry Bonilla, R-San Antonio, urged that the United States review the case with Mexican officials for possible inconsistencies.

Herrera's friends in Presidio have maintained he is innocent and that the case against him is weak and that the main witness was jailed on Feb. 19 when Ortega was murdered.

Peaceful protests have twice closed the international bridge between the towns.

Carlos Spencer, the owner of Spencers' clothing store who attended school with Herrera's father, said he believes the Mexican government is just after money.

Proclaiming "Junie is innocent/Set Junie free," bilingual posters have been nailed to telephone poles and trees and taped to store windows throughout Presidio.

Rosaries are recited nightly at the town's Catholic church. Car antennas and door handles are festooned with yellow ribbons.

Hundreds of residents blocked the international bridge the night of May 4 after a judge ruled that there was enough evidence to hold Herrera. But protests stopped when Mexican officials threatened to move Herrera to the state prison in Chihuahua City, about 120 miles away.

"Poor guy, everybody in town is for him," said Elida Martinez, a desk clerk at the Three Palms Inn in the city of fewer than 4,000 people.

Herrera was arrested at a car-racing track on the edge of Ojinaga, the Mexican town across the river from Presidio. As he was preparing his hot rod for a drag race, a team of Chihuahua state police agents handcuffed him and told him he was under arrest.

"I thought it was a joke," Herrera told the Houston Chronicle.

Herrera, who lives with his parents, maintained during an interview from the Ojinaga municipal jail that he was home the night of the killing, an account confirmed by his mother, father and older sister.

"It's unbelievable," said Herrera's criminal defense lawyer, Adolfo Baca, of Chihuahua City, the state capital. "This is the first time I have had a case when I have a client like Junie, where everybody is for him - where everybody is mad at what they did to him."

Front's storms cause damage in Panhandle, Central Texas

From Staff and Wire Reports
PECOS, Monday, May 21, 2001 -- A cold front that arrived in the Pecos area overnight dropped  temperatures by over 40 degrees from their highs on Sunday and is expected to send  them down into the 40s tonight.

The strong cold front, which brought snow to Denver and caused power outages in Colorado and Kansas, only produced high winds in the Trans-Pecos region, but to the east storms dropped hail up to four inches in diameter and created high winds overnight that damaged some homes and buildings in Central and South Texas.

High temperatures today in Pecos were only expected to reach 70, but the forecast calls for highs back in the 80s by Tuesday.

Storms did move through the Panhandle, where a 75 mph gust was recorded at Dumas and a 58 mph gust moved through the Dalhart airport.

In Dumas, many trees and power lines were toppled by winds.

The winds in the Pecos area caused some blowing dust problems this morning, but the dust problem was not as bad as on Saturday morning, when high winds that arrived along with brief rains caused near-zero visibility for drivers along Highway 17 south of town.

Along with drivers, the winds also caused problems for people at Eagle Stadium who were participating in the annual American Cancer Society "Relay For Life." However, the clouds that came with the front ended up leaving only .05 inch of rain in the area, according to the Texas A&M Agricultural Experiment Station.

In Central Texas, a house was destroyed and car windows were damaged near Floresville late Sunday as thunderstorms triggered by the cold front moved through the region.

More wind damage was reported in Atascosa County, where the roof was torn off a house.

Four-inch-diameter hail fell near Stockdale, the National Weather Service said.

Trees were also toppled and power lines blown down during storms in Central Texas, including the areas around Llano and Austin.

A movie theater sustained some roof damage in Travis County near Austin. A 72 mph gust was recorded at a school near Pflugerville.

Hail up to 3 1/2 inches was reported near Round Rock.


High Sunday 97. Low this morning 53. Weekend rainfall at  the Texas A&M Experiment Station .05 inch. Forecast for tonight:  Clear. Low in the mid 40s. Northeast wind 5 to 15 mph. Tuesday:  Mostly sunny. High in the lower 80s. Southwest wind 5 to 15  mph. Tuesday night: Clear. Low in the mid 50s. Wednesday: Partly  cloudy and warmer. High in the lower 90s. Thursday: Partly cloudy  and warmer. Low from the mid to upper 50s. High in the lower 90s.


Hector Chavez, Felipa Matta and Loy Albert Wells

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