Debate sparks discussion about regional issues

Flagstaff — Transportation of nuclear waste and water were the hot topics during a congressional forum in Flagstaff. Ten candidates running for the District 1 Congressional seat in Arizona, which includes the Navajo Nation and most of Northern Arizona, squared off May 23 in Flagstaff.

Fred DuVal, Roger Hartstone, Sam Martinez, Diane Prescott and Derek Watchman were the Democrats.

Sydney Hay, George Krob, Rick Renzi, David Stafford and Bruce Whiting were the Republicans.

Congress has proposed placing nuclear waste from the nation’s 131 nuclear power plants at a Yucca Mountain repository in Nevada. Nevada officials are opposing this. A lot of this nuclear waste would be transported through northern Arizona including parts of the Navajo Nation.

Stafford said the nuclear waste needs to be put somewhere and it’s OK if that’s the place. Martinez, who announced that he supports nuclear energy, echoed Stafford that it has to go somewhere, but added he would defer to the experts and it would be inappropriate for him to comment. Krob said he opposed nuclear waste from the start, but didn’t offer an opinion on whether Yucca Mountain was the appropriate site for the nuclear waste. Prescott said there was no reason to rush this decision and she remained concerned about the methods. She said more study is needed. Renzi said there was no better place to store it than Yucca Mountain, but that it may be better to transport the nuclear waste by air. This raised eyebrows of spectators in the audience who felt that would be impractical.

Hartstone said he supports the Yucca Mountain site.

“It makes no sense to transport it by air. We have to consider rail or vehicle,” he said.

Hay said she did not support the Yucca Mountain site and questioned the practicality of transporting nuclear waste by Interstate 40 or rail.

“I don’t know how many potential terrorist targets this would bring,” she said.

Hay said this is an issue of states’ rights and added that she understood Nevada’s position.

DuVal said he remains skeptical of the science behind Yucca Mountain.

“We don’t need a rush to judgment,” he said.

DuVal questioned why a single congressional hearing hasn’t been held on this issue. He added that the “fix is in” politically, but northern Arizona needs to speak as loudly as it can because of the important transportation safety issue.

Whiting said he has serious reservations about Yucca Mountain mainly because of the states’ rights issue. He said northern Arizona has had many accidents over the years due to snow and train derailments.

“I’m not content that it’s safe, and I can’t vote for it until it is,” he said.

Watchman said Yucca Mountain is inevitable because of the 38 states that have nuclear contamination. He said emergency preparedness needs to be in place.

Water was a hot topic because of the current drought and the ongoing need for water in northern Arizona, especially on the Navajo Nation. Stafford, who comes from a law enforcement background, said more intergovernmental agreements are needed so that regional governments can work together on the water issue.

Martinez, who was born in Holbrook, said more water needs to be recycled so that it can be reused.

Krob, retired from the military, had just one answer: Pray for rain.

Hartstone, who was the first candidate among this now crowded field, said economic development in northern Arizona will not happen without water. He said it is a key federal issue because of the Colorado River. He also said the Colorado River has to be opened up for use by the tribes and rural communities.

“Others have it. Rural Arizona is entitled to it,” he said.

Renzi said water is an important issue for local control, but the federal government needs to invest in the technology that will help people conserve water. He added that the development of Snowbowl in Flagstaff was important to the economic development of Northern Arizona.

DuVal, the leader in raising funds for the campaign, referred to the old saying that “Scotch is for drinking and water is for fighting.” He said more conservation is needed, but he emphasized that water flows to power, which means that northern Arizona needs to have a concerted effort to obtain the water it needs. More specifically, he said northern Arizona has a right to Central Arizona Project (CAP) water.

Hay said California and Nevada need to be weaned off of CAP water.

Watchman, an assistant to Navajo Nation President Kelsey Begaye, said water is life. He said northern Arizona needs to quantify how much water it needs and tap into the Colorado River. He said Navajo and Hopi need to work together to bring a waterline into the area. He added that more conservation is needed.

The candidates were also questioned about how they felt about power plants being placed on Indian lands. They agreed that Native Americans should not be forced into having power plants placed on their lands.

“Indians have been maligned, pushed, cajoled,” Krob said.

DuVal said power plants have ramifications for surrounding communities so an Environmental Impact Study would be needed. He said it shouldn’t be looked at as just a power plant issue, but as a jobs and environment issue.

Watchman said some tribes are looking at energy, and it needs to be left to them to decide. “Only a few (tribes) can do it because of the land, transmission lines and water that it takes,” he said.

Prescott said the tribes need to be asked what kind of capital investment they want, what resources they want and if they want the pollution that comes along with it. “I defer to the tribal leaders of the Indian nations,” she said.

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