FEATURE / From Maine to Texas BY OLIVE HERSHEY Seen from the air, the jagged blue-green shoreline of Maine gleams like a multi faceted jewel. White sails skim the famed Penobscot Bay with its picturesque harbors and tidy towns like Wiscasset and Damariscotta, “place of many fishes.” The air smells of the cold Atlantis salt marsh, lobster, and cod On hundreds of islands and promontories the trees rise tall and green. You are about as far from Sierra Blanca, Texas, as you can get 0 n Baily Point, in a green cove of the Back River, nestles the tiny nuclear reactor owned by Maine Yankee. As innocent looking as a piece of chocolate, the Maine Yankee reactor is the center of a struggle involving Maine, Vermont, and Texaswhere twelve city and nineteen county governments have joined environmental groups and private citizens fighting to keep the two New England states from dumping their ra dioactive waste in Sierra Blanca. In a leap of logic as long as the highway from Penobscot Bay to Sierra Blanca, Maine Yankee, and eventually Vermont Yankee, plan to truck their low-level nuclear waste some fifteen hundred miles to bury it forty feet underground in Sierra Blanca \(population, the House has ratified the Texas-Maine-Vermont Compact, H.R. STerra Blanca, the county seat of Hudspeth County, Texas mountain north of town. The dusty brown colonia at the mountain’s base might well be the set for a particularly desolate Sam Shepherd play. No stately trees grow here; the only patch of greenery is the newly irrigated grass on the high school football field. Around the town, for hundreds of miles in all directions, stretches the vast Chihuahuan Desert, populated mostly by deer, mountain lion, javelina, and jaguarundi. Rising above modest one-story homes, Sierra Blanca’ s adobe courthouse stands as the city’s handsomest public structure. Vacant service stations, derelict restaurants, and body shops line the single commercial street, along with two grocery stores still doing business a few feet from one another. Besides Chona’s ice cream parlor, a few gas stations, motels and restaurants, and the bank, the only signs of industry in town are the U.S. Border Patrol office, the Merco sludge dump, and the radioactive waste dump the Texas Low Level Radioactive Waste Disposal Authority is digging east of town. Like an inverted, hollowed-out Mayan pyramid, the raw trench steps downward into the earth, awaiting the permanent monument of nuclear waste arriving from across the country. But Sierra Blanca won’t stand by in solemn silence while it becomes a radioactive mausoleum. Behind the counter of Guerra and Company, one of the town’s two grocery stores, Bill Addington and his mother, Gloria Guerra, hail customers with the latest news from Austin and Washington about the Texas Compact Bill, which will change their lives forever. The phone rings; a reporter is on the line. Pain roughens Bill’s voice, makes it gruff. “This is my land, my home,” Addington says. “I’ll never let them do this. I’m in it to the death.” . When I first heard Bill say something like this, two years ago, I thought he was being melodramatic. By now I’ve learned better. Early in September he called a press conference announcing his hunger strike. Thirty days later and twenty-six pounds lighter, as I write, Bill says he will use his fast to build public awareness, and a strong floor fight in Congress against what he and his neighbors fear is a potential environmental catastrophe. “I don’t have money to hire lawyers or lobbyists like the dump proponents have,” he said, his cheeks hollow and his dark eyes feverishly bright. “What I have is what you see. I’m no hero.” Bill is a hero to Gloria, who runs the store while her son is lobbying in Austin, or Washington, or Maine. “Some people are chicken and others aren’t,” she said. “I’m proud of Billy, but I’m a little worried. Wouldn’t you be? The first time I put my hand on his shoulder and felt how bony it was, I got tears in my eyes.” One afternoon in February,Bill drove me to the farm Gloria’s father, his grandfather, bought eighty years ago. He pointed out the truck window to Red Light Draw, a shallow depression north of the dirt road. When it rains, Bill said, water in the draw flows south behind the red massif of Eagle Mountain. Bill’s seen the arroyo running high with muddy floodwater flowing straight into the Rio Grande. Like many of his neighbors, Bill’s afraid that over time, long-lived radionuclides such as iodine and plutonium will leak out of their cement containersseeping into the sand, the aquifer, and, ultimately, the river, only sixteen miles away. When he announced his hunger strike, Bill came down hard on elected officials from Texas who have failed to protect their West Texas constituents. “Our border country is in trouble,” he said. “Because of our poverty, our remote location, and our racial makeup, we are being targeted for every activity that more affluent, whiter regions find undesirable…. It’s not foreign invaders who would bring us this waste; it is our own elected representatives.” Many Americans and Mexicans living along the border argue that the Sierra Blanca dump violates the La Paz agreement signed by the United States and Mexico, as well as an executive order issued by President Clinton, prohibiting the targeting of minority communities for hazardous dumps. Instead of aboveor below-ground monitored assured storage \(a THE TEXAS OBSERVER 13 OCTOBER 24, 1997
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