Closing out the Toxic Triangle, conserving gay history

Nuke’m high

Halftime score: 5-0.

It wasn’t the usual opposition the QueQue has become familiar with during the past year, the “no-rate-hikes-for-nuclear” chanters, but the voice seated behind us at the special meeting of CPS Energy’s Board of Trustees (held Tuesday in a bunker at the Alamodome) was opposed to the expansion of the South Texas Project nuclear complex just the same.

“I want them to get out entirely,” the baritone nuke proponent said. Wants ’em to drop the South Texas Project and build a newer model without partner NRG Energy ... preferably away from coastal hurricanes and sea-level rise.

But the utility’s official decision to buy into the proposed STP expansion was a foregone conclusion. CPS Energy Co-CEO Steve Bartley — referencing the “broad support” of a dozen different area chambers of commerce — recommended an equity ownership in STP in the range of 20-25 percent, and the board quickly signed on.

Board Chair Aurora Geis opened the meeting with a defense of the utility’s clean-energy pursuits. “We don’t want to compromise our pursuit of other technologies,” Geis said. “We want to be able to support these technologies as they mature in the future.”

Strange, since it has come out in the last week that the utility will likely have to delay previously planned pollution controls at the city’s coal plants, as well as the development and implementation of advanced meter systems and an improved “smart” grid the utility will need to deliver on a promised pollution-free, decentralized power model.

The utility is currently obligated to pick up half of the estimated $13 billion cost of completing the STP expansion, though the utility’s staff have been recommending it sell down to a 40-percent share. City Council resistance to a 40-percent stake and increasing financial pressures forced CPS to back down even further. But selling off a 25-30 percent ownership in two nuclear reactors requires a qualified, motivated buyer, and there’s no guarantee CPS can find one in this market. Thoughtful CPS board member Steve Hennigan said that at this “point of maximum uncertainty” the biggest risk is the city will get stuck too deep in the project.

“On paper we are the stronger of the partners from a bond perspective,” Hennigan said of 50-50 partner and recent bankruptcy recoveree NRG Energy. “If one of our partners gets in trouble, we own that risk.”

Motion passed: 5-0. With yet another lecture from Geis on future, future green-energy plans.

Overheard at the back: “She’ll be saying that as she’s eaten up by radioactivity.”

On October 29, the Council, said to be leaning 9-1 in favor of the Mayor’s proposed 20-percent buy-in, takes up the question. Want to know what that means for the failing nuclear-waste storage industry? See page 13.

White elephant party

Why, you ask, can’t we let the nuke-plant issue go? Because cleanup drags on for freaking ever. To wit:

The cause of higher-than-average liver and kidney cancer rates in the Toxic Triangle surrounding the former Kelly Air Force Base has not been officially fingered, but the City moved one step closer to owning the entire site last week, when the Air Force transferred another 72 acres to Port San Antonio. That brings Port SA’s total AF acreage up to 1,518, whereon they have cultivated more than 60 “commercial organizations,” including runway-needy entrepreneurs such as Gore Design Completions.

According to reports in the LA Times and the San Antonio Express-News, workers at the former base used to dispose of known carcinogens such as trichloroethylene and tetrachloroethylene in open pits onsite, resulting in the extensive contamination of area groundwater first discovered some two decades ago. Unaware of the problem growing beneath their feet, residents of the area’s poor and working-class neighborhoods often used illegal shallow wells for drinking water and other needs, and activists such as the Southwest Workers Union have also suggested that fumes from the chemical plume could have migrated into homes through openings in foundations. Rounds of government-sponsored studies by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry and the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District haven’t connected the dots, but as the Current reported in April, a Congressional subcommittee issued a damning report of the ATSDR’s track record last March and accused the agency of “jackleg science by ATSDR and `a` keenness to please industries and government agencies that prefer to minimize public health consequence.” The Current also discovered that Metro Health had discredited and buried a report it had commissioned that concluded 10 percent of the area’s cancer incidences could not be explained away by other factors. `See “Crime Scene Cleanup,” April 29, 2009.`

The Environmental Protection Agency had to sign off on the groundwater-contamination cleanup on the 72 acres before it changed hands, and the Air Force will continue to monitor the H20 for another 30-50 years, said Public Affairs Officer Armando Perez. The green light doesn’t mean the contamination is gone, says EPA Senior Project Manager Greg Lyssy, but that the permeable reactive barriers and groundwater pumps are doing their job “as designed,” reducing both the concentration of the toxins and the size of the plumes. The agency estimates it’ll take another decade to achieve the allowable Maximum Concentration Levels for the contaminants. But, Lyssy said, it’s important to remember that no one is drinking the water or using it for irrigation (Ed. note: anymore).

A final 370 acres of the former base is scheduled for transfer to Port San Antonio in 2010. Neighborhood residents have worried that once the Toxic Triangle is cleaned up, and Port SA holds all of the deeds, they’ll lose any chance of receiving compensation for untimely deaths and medical bills if and when a connection is proven between the toxic plume and their health woes. But Perez says the conveyance doesn’t mean the Air Force is walking away from its responsibilities. The Current was unable to reach Southwest Workers Union Environmental Justice Coordinator Lara Cushing for comment before deadline.

A meeting of the Kelly Restoration Advisory Board was scheduled for Tuesday night (after we shipped this baby off to the printer), along with an update on the cleanup — including graphics showing how much the plume has retreated since remediation began. Check Curblog for updates.

In other big-mess news: The EPA is hosting a public meeting October 20 to talk about its recently completed asbestos remediation at the Big Tex Grain Site. The estimated $2.5 million bill remains unpaid, said EPA PIO Dave Bary, and confidential jockeying continues between current owner James Lifshutz, original site polluter (and hardcore eco-offender) W. R. Grace, and another former owner re: who will pony up. `See the QueQue, September 16.` The meeting starts at 6:30 p.m. in the handicap-accessible Brackenridge High School cafeteria, 400 Eagleland Dr.

Beauty is as

beauty does

The San Antonio Conservation Society a champion of local gay history? At least to the extent that culture is embodied in the legacy of our original gay fairy godfather, Arthur “Hap” Veltman, who ascended to Xanadu in December 1988. The Society, whose mission includes funding building restoration, gave the Bonham Exchange $10,000 last year and $5,000 this year to preserve the club’s imposingly gorgeous Chicago-brick and Kerrville-limestone façade. Built as a German social club in 1891, and physically marred as a World War II-era U.S. O., the Bonham is best known today as the city’s first big crossover gay bar (opened by Veltman in 1981) where all the young dudes and very merry gentlemen get their dance on with a smorgasbord of straight SA.

The Society also sponsored a plaque honoring Veltman’s contributions to preserving downtown’s physical heritage (the Casino Club building, the Dullnig Building, the Bonham, Blue Star ... ), which was dedicated at the Happy Art Island at Josephine and St. Mary’s on August 1.

“Hap Veltman’s ideals of preservation and adaptive use won him the appreciation of the entire Society membership,” notes the Society’s Fall 2009 newsletter, “and made San Antonio a better place to live and to visit.”

“It’s significant that the Conservation Society’s making an effort to support `building architect James` Wahrenberger’s architecture,” said Happy Foundation Director Gene Elder. “Since the Bonham Exchange is located in the Alamo Historical District, which is listed in the National Register of Historic Places, we’re probably the only gay bar that’s being historically preserved! In our own little backwards way, San Antonio’s ahead of the curve.”

A nod, too, to tireless nudge Elder, who shamed the city into restoring the beat-down art island, and who reminded the QueQue to praise the Society’s efforts, because “It would be a good way to influence the gay community to be more supportive `of` the Conservation Society.”

Hear that, you Stocking Stus and Boa Bettys? Get out those checkbooks and change jars. Every penny counts.

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