The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) granted approval Tuesday for a production permit to Uranium Energy Corp. (UEC) in that county.
Harry Anthony, UEC’s chief operating officer, celebrated the commission’s decision.
“We are grateful that the TCEQ recognizes that uranium is a safe, viable and clean energy source. Uranium production and nuclear power are an essential part of our country’s overall energy policy and the Goliad project is a vital part of that effort,” he said.
Anthony added, “The United States has significant domestic uranium resources, but we currently import an overwhelming majority of our supply for nuclear power plants. Our goal is to turn that around and today’s ruling by the TCEQ is a big step toward making this happen.”
Goliad landowners who support the uranium industry welcomed the ruling.
“Uranium development has proven to be a safe process that will benefit our future and this project will bring jobs and economic development to the region at a critical time. It’s good for Goliad County and it’s good for the country,” said Betty Jacob, a lifelong Goliad resident.
Sidney Braquet, a fourth generation Goliad landowner, said, “Today’s ruling is a victory for private property rights. Our county government has wasted enough taxpayer dollars opposing this important project.”
For all the supporters of the uranium industry’s presence in Goliad, there are plenty of opponents.
In fact, more than 50 Goliad residents concerned about their groundwater traveled to Austin by charter bus to hear TCEQ’s ruling.
Reulie Irwin, real estate broker and chairman of the uranium research and advisory committee and director of the groundwater district, said many Goliad residents felt TCEQ members had made up their minds before even hearing the arguments.
“It was really ironic,” said Irwin. “We were first on the agenda [for the day]. Judge [Richard] Wilfong (who heard the trial in Goliad) was there, and he recommended TCEQ deny the permit or do more testing.
“Garrett Arthur, the chairman of [TCEQ’s] Office of Public Interest recommended denying it. But the executive director of TCEQ recommended they approve it.”
Irwin said Commissioner Bryan Shaw, TCEQ chairman, said UEC’s proposal met the commission’s rules.
“Then, he read from a document that had been prepared before we got there,” Irwin said.
Shaw said the areas of concern that the Goliad residents and Judge Wilfong were worried about were not real concerns.
“I propose... and the commission finds... and characterization of the Northwest fault is not required with respect to the proposed permit area, as that information will be provided at such time as the applicant determines to submit applications for proposed production Areas Two through Four,” Shaw said.
“Areas Two through Four” refer to areas where UEC is not yet ready to begin production. Tuesday’s ruling did not include those areas.
Irwin thought the application had been approved due to the economy. Program fees make up $403 million of TCEQ’s $466 million budget for fiscal year 2011, according to its Web site.
Many Goliad residents are disappointed but have no intention of giving up the fight.
“It’s not a done deal,” Irwin said. “There are still hurdles past TCEQ. The next step [for UEC] is to get an aquifer exemption from the EPA.”
That exemption means a company can have an unused part of an aquifer exempted from the Safe Drinking Water Act. However, during the mining process, companies must take precautions to keep from contaminating the rest of the aquifer.
Irwin said the county’s groundwater district and commissioners court have each signed resolutions opposing UEC’s production to send to the EPA.
Landowners and residents in the production area are also signing a petition against the mining to be sent to the EPA.
Irwin expects the county will get a response sometime in January.
Nevertheless, UEC is ready to mine “as soon as reasonably possible,” according to Matt Welch, spokesperson for UEC.
TCEQ has required the company to submit a written application, to be finalized Jan. 25.
Even so, the commission has already approved the permit. Once the paperwork is taken care of, the company will be allowed to begin production, though they will continue to be monitored by the TCEQ, Welch said.
The Goliad project is located in north central Goliad County and currently consists of 13 leases that cover approximately 1,421 net acres of contiguous properties.
UEC began exploratory drilling in November on leases in south Bee County.
Sarah Taylor is a reporter at the Bee-Picayune and can be reached at 358-2550, ext. 122, or sarah@mySouTex.com.