GOLIAD - The fight by Goliad County and residents against uranium mining just became more divided.
A vocal family, which for a year cried foul, dropped its name from a federal lawsuit.
Then, two county commissioners voted Monday to accept a settlement offer to end this expensive, oft-nasty battle.
Despite the turn of events, the lawsuit will go forward. Three members of the commissioners court, or the majority, voted that same day to fight it out.
As a July court date nears, some worry the cost to tussle will drill too deep into the county's budget.
A split decision
Craig and Luann Duderstadt attached their name to the lawsuit in March 2008. They contended Uranium Energy Corp. contaminated their well water. Goliad County makes similar claims.
The uranium company drilled more than 1,100 exploratory wells dating back to June 2006 - and didn't plug those holes in a proper and timely manner, the lawsuit contends.
Heavy rains forced surface contamination into those uncapped holes, dirtying the aquifer, the county claims.
On May 1, though, the Duderstadts dismissed their allegations and agreed to never re-file those claims, according to the uranium company.
"No money or other consideration was paid to the Duderstadts for this dismissal," a company statement notes. "Expert geologist and hydrologist testimony by representatives of the Railroad Commission of Texas and by the Duderstadts' own expert witness, as well as others, could not find any basis for their claim."
Luann Duderstadt declined comment on Tuesday.
Jim Blackburn, the Houston environmental attorney who represents Goliad County in the lawsuit, said the uranium company threatened the Duderstadts with legal fees and financial sanctions.
"It seemed like the wise move to drop them from the suit," Blackburn said. "I wanted to protect them. We're in the midst of a dogfight."
About the same time the Duderstadts dropped from the suit, the uranium company offered to settle with the county. Neither side would discuss details of the offer.
Those on the commissioners court who voted against taking the offer say protecting groundwater fueled their decision.
"It's the right thing to do," said Commissioner Jim Kreneck.
"I think these people have not done what they should in regard to their exploration in Goliad County," said County Judge Harold Gleinser.
Water isn't the only commodity at stake, though. If Goliad County loses its court battle, Uranium Energy Corp. will likely seek to recoup its legal fees, which some estimate will grow to more than $1 million.
Goliad County's legal costs already top $300,000, said County Commissioner Jerry Rodriguez.
"I just feel that this federal lawsuit is an expenditure we don't need to pursue anymore," Rodriguez said. "Paying for their legal fees really made me think twice about it. I don't want to take a chance and lose the lawsuit."
Rodriguez said he sees no proof the company contaminated water. Commissioner Julian Flores agrees with him.
Kreneck, Gleinser and Commissioner Ted Long voted otherwise.
The uranium company views this split as a pivotal moment in its bid to drill for profit.
"In earlier decisions, the vote had been 5-0 in favor of the lawsuit," the company said in a statement. "The commission is now divided. Uranium Energy Corp. firmly believes that the commissioners court claims, like the Duderstadts' claims, lack any valid basis, and the company will continue to vigorously oppose their efforts. We continue developing our internal planning for the successful development of the Goliad project in 2010."
Blackburn says not so fast.
"It is undisputed that Uranium Energy Corp. on at least 147 occasions violated the plugging requirements," Blackburn said. "Those violations occurred and the litigation is strong. I think it is fair to say that we're entering a new phase in the fight with regard to uranium mining in Goliad County."
Be aware that Jim Blackburn does not have a high batting average on environmental issues. He was the lead in the fight to prevent the construction of the Bayport Container Terminal adjacent Shoreacres, TX. He lead the effort for about three years then left them with a disaster. You Should see the quality of life in Shoreacres after Hurricane IKE and the Container Port going full blast.http://www.victoriaadvocate.com/news/2009/may/12/gs_uranium_051309_50126/