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Measure may take toll on N-waste plan

The fight over placing high-level nuclear waste on the Goshute Indian reservation in Utah's western desert heats up at the Legislature this week, with a bill that would afix a huge toll to any nuclear waste traveling on a lonesome road to the site.

Gov. Mike Leavitt has kept under wraps a bill that he wants which, he says, will severely burden, or stop dead in its tracks, an attempt by a consortium of Eastern nuclear power producers to move their spent fuel rods to the reservation for temporary storage.The Deseret News has learned the Leavitt bill will make a toll road out of the only black-topped road going into the reservation.

"The tolls would be placed so high that it would be economically impossible" to transport the waste to the reservation, said one Republican legislator familiar with the governor's intent.

However, to do that would require that the road become a state road. The Utah Department of Transportation has already asked lawmakers to make that designation.

But Monday morning, in a surprise move, the House Transportation Committee amended a Senate bill outlining new state roads and removed the 26-mile Skull Valley Road from the list, complicating matters.

Senate Majority Leader Craig Peterson, who is prepared to sponsor the bill for the governor, said in light of Monday's committee decision he will now add into the toll-road bill a provision that the road be a state road, bypassing that House committee.

The Senate bill listing state roads, the one amended by the House committee Monday, is sponsored by Sen. John Holmgren, R-Bear River. Holmgren seemed optimistic that the road could be added back to the bill on the House floor or by a House and Senate conference committee.

But Peterson doesn't want to depend on that happening. His toll bill, still being developed late Monday morning, would give the state a number of options to provide oversight and control over any nuclear waste storage facility.

It could impose so many burdens, fees and restrictions that the Goshutes and their potential business partners may decide the facility just isn't worth it.

"We're putting up as many hurdles as we can think up, that we can legally and ethically do, to keep them from bringing (nuclear waste) in," Peterson said. "We already have the power, and do, (charge tolls) on any number of issues. For example, when Geneva Steel brought in a new (steel) furnace, a huge piece of equipment, several years ago, we, by law, required Highway Patrol escorts and other matters."

Peterson said the state could impose a toll on the Goshute road based on size or weight, even for materials being carried "if those materials posed a health threat to the citizens, and these (waste rods) certainly do. Whatever we do will be constitutional," he added.

Among the options that could be included in the final version of the bill:

- Charging a toll based on the weight of the material hauled. Peterson said the state could not, constitutionally, make the tolls so high as to discourage or prevent the shipment of waste.

- Requiring a permit and, potentially, fees to be paid whenever the waste is transferred or relocated.

"There's two or three dozen different things we can do," Peterson said, adding that the bill is intended to show potential haulers and storage-site operators that "we're not going to cut you any slack."

The House committee voted 8-4 to removed the Goshute road from the state list. Rep. Don Bush, R-Clearfield, chairman of the committee, said some members didn't want to take the road from Tooele County. The Tooele County Commission is on record favoring going forward with the Goshute storage plan, at least for now.

"Others just didn't see the need to take the road," said Bush, who admitted that the governor's toll idea was not discussed openly in the meeting.

The two-lane Skull Valley Road stretches from Dugway to I-80.

Rep. David Ure, R-Kamas, was behind the committee effort to remove the Skull Valley Road from the state road list. He said he agrees with the governor's efforts to keep nuclear waste out of Tooele County, but he did not agree with the way the state has gone about transferring the road from county to state jurisdiction.

"I am against any waste coming into Utah. I back the governor in his philosophy of keeping all waste out," Ure said.

Ure said he feels Tooele County residents should have the opportunity to discuss the road transfer in pubic hearings before any permanent decision is made.