Facebook Twitter



For the better part of a decade, a feud has been simmering between Butte and Spencer over plans to build a concrete bunker to hold low-level radioactive waste from five states.

Folks in Butte want the dump so badly they would let developers build it downtown. In Spencer, 10 miles away, they don't want any part of it.The quarrel between the two towns nestled in scenic northeast Nebraska is so divisive that some blood relatives aren't speaking.

"It has torn families apart," said Spencer rancher Lowell Fisher, an opponent who once staged a 30-day hunger strike to draw attention to the dump.

After at least six years of bickering and nearly $70 million spent by the states involved, the two towns are awaiting Nebraska's decision on whether to issue licenses to build and operate the waste warehouse three miles outside of Butte.

Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana, Nebraska and Oklahoma would send such things as filters and contaminated tools from nuclear power plants, and clothing and instruments from hospitals or universities involved in nuclear medicine.

Butte has most of the 300 known supporters, who tout the waste warehouse as an economic boon that would create jobs and pump money to the small farming community.

Opponents, who live mostly in Spencer and nearby Naper, are wary that leaks from the proposed system of concrete vaults could pollute groundwater in the area's abundant wetlands.

No matter which side they take, everyone wants the matter resolved.

"I'm sure there will be pockets of people who are going to carry a chip on their shoulder," said Ken Reiser of Butte, a supporter of the waste site. "But most understand that we'll just have to move on."

Gov. Ben Nelson urged about 150 people gathered last week in Butte to be patient while safety issues are being studied.

"If it can't be built safely, it won't be," Nelson, a Democrat, said later at a church in Spencer. "This is not a decision that should be rushed."

The developer, US Ecology, originally told the Central Interstate Low-Level Radioactive Waste Commission the site would be operating by 1993.

Now the state says it will be late next year before any licensing decision is made, and the company has pushed back a possible opening date to 1999.

The cost has more than quadrupled from the $40 million projected in 1989 to an estimated $170 million.

Meanwhile, electric utilities and others that use radioactive technology in the five states have spent nearly $70 million since 1989, on costs related to geological surveys, applications, fencing the original 320-acre site and subcontractors.

Armed guards and barbed-wire fences protect the newly configured 110-acre site, which was drawn up to protect wetlands. It has a few test wells and some small buildings containing weather-testing equipment, and it's overrun with acres of grass and weeds.

Vandalism has ranged from billboards that have been spray-painted to an explosive charge that damaged a pump and well at a monitoring site.

Maybe the years have helped dissipate some of the anger.

Opponents and supporters no longer shout during meetings, and vandalism has declined, but protest signs still dot Boyd County.

Jerry Heerman agreed it's time to "decide one way or the other."

"We've been on death row for seven years," said Heerman, a rancher who opposes the dump. "This has got to come to an end."