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Plan for medical waste treatment plant draws public outcry

A proposal by MediWaste Disposal LLC to bring a medical waste treatment facility to the valley has touched off a wave of public unrest, with a crowd of Pahrump residents flocking to the latest Nye County Commission meeting to express their displeasure.

MediWaste Disposal has purchased the property at 1850 E. Basin Avenue, next door to the Pahrump DMV, a building that formerly housed a propane company. Using a pyrolysis unit, medical waste will be reduced to “biochar” as well as a renewable fuel byproduct. The byproduct will be sold as a commodity and the biochar will initially be transported to the Pahrump Landfill, with the end goal to eventually recycle it.

As part of the process to establish a local operation, MediWaste Disposal was required to secure a Conditional Use Permit (CUP) with the county, just one of many regulatory permits the company will need. The CUP was granted by the Pahrump Regional Planning Commission (RPC) in a 5-0 vote in April, following an hour-long round of questioning and discussion.

“This location will serve MediWaste’s current operational feedstock in California as well as generators and transporters of medical waste throughout other various states,” details presented at the April RPC meeting explain. “It will reduce the volume of both treated and non-treated waste going into landfills or incineration facilities and provide an overall environmental benefit to the county and various surrounding states.”

Despite these assertions, many local residents are viewing the project with apprehension, citing all sorts of potential issues. Fires and explosions were one worry expressed, as were concerns about air quality and water quality impacts, the effect that the project would have on Pahrump’s already dwindling landfill capacity and more.

“My husband and I, and some of our friends, moved to Pahrump from Clark County for our good health and safety. I just want to let you know I object to this,” resident Lisa Hemby asserted.

“We’ll have medical waste coming in huge containers over our county roads. What happens if there’s an accident, if a spill happens?” Stephanie Hashimura demanded, while Katherine McLeroy added, “I’m very concerned about this, especially with the HAZMAT situation. Our fire department is not equipped to deal with any issues like this.”

Others called into question the fact that one RPC member, Walt Turner, helped broker the property purchase for MediWaste, although Turner recused himself from the discussion and did not vote on the permit.

One speaker, local resident John O’Brien, even declared that he would be filing an injunction with the courts to have the matter remanded back to the RPC for further discussion.

Public speakers at the county commission’s May 21 meeting were almost unanimously opposed to the project but there was an exception, former Pahrump Town Board member Harley Kulkin.

“I’m not going to be for or against it,” Kulkin proclaimed. “I want to learn a lot about it… because I see an opportunity to possibly bring some money and jobs into our community… We can’t be against everything and get everything, it just doesn’t work. People need to have a little more open mind and understand, maybe there’s opportunity there. Let’s look at this stuff from both sides of the fence, not one side, or we’re never going to get anywhere.”

However, the majority of those speaking out Tuesday were asking that the Nye County Commission do something to halt the project. The board members themselves seemed to feel more information was needed, too.

“This medical waste thing never came before this board,” Nye County Commissioner Ron Boskovich told the public that morning. “That being said, I would like to provide direction to staff to get this company back here to provide us a presentation on what it is they do and how they are doing it. Further, I would like the DA to look into whether or not this permit can be rescinded.”

Nye County Commissioner Frank Carbone noted that the Nye County District Attorney’s Office is already reviewing the situation and commission chair Debra Strickland added, “We’ll do what we can to figure out more about this. We don’t know enough as commissioners, frankly, but we’ll learn.”

When reached for comment about the recent protests, MediWaste Disposal LLC President Ryan Oganesian said he feels there are some misconceptions fueling the flames of discord.

“We chose the community of Pahrump because of its record of supporting new businesses and economic development, and we selected the Basin site in particular because it is specifically zoned for uses like ours,” Oganesian stated. “While we understand some concerns have been raised, we believe they may be due in part to a misunderstanding of our business and operations. For example, the process we will use does not involve incineration and therefore, does not produce emissions common to incinerators. Additionally, there is no waste-water discharge. The operation is also less volatile than the proper propane operation that existed at this location for the past 10 years.

“MediWaste has always been a good community partner and we plan to connect with the community in Pahrump,” Oganesian added. “As we get closer to finalizing our operational plans, we would be happy to meet with residents to answer their questions.”

For more on the company visit Medi-Waste.com

Contact reporter Robin Hebrock at rhebrock@pvtimes.com

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