BISMARCK, N.D. — It will cost North Dakota taxpayers $12,600 to clean up the mess of radioactive filter socks and other debris discovered last month in a dilapidated gas station in the tiny town of Noonan.
The state Health Department said Monday it will hire one of only two companies licensed by North Dakota to handle radioactive waste to remove the hundreds of industrial-sized garbage bags stuffed with the illegal socks that are a byproduct of oil production.
Department spokesman Steve Tillotson said Secure On-site Services was the only company to provide a bid for the work, which will paid from the state Industrial Commission's abandoned well cleanup fund. The fund uses oil and gas production taxes, well permit fees, and other fees.
The other company solicited for a bid, Clean Harbors, didn't respond by Friday's deadline.
The department has taken responsibility for the Noonan mess because the property owner of record, Ken Ward, is on the lam after escaping police custody in Wyoming, where he was arrested for allegedly stealing oil company equipment.
Tillotson said the department's only contact was with an individual who paid the property taxes, but is not the property owner.
He said the department wants the work done as soon as possible and expects the two-day job could be done within the next week or so.
Kurt Rhea, of Secure On-site Services, said the filter socks will be loaded into a lined container at Noonan and transported for disposal at U.S. Ecology's radioactive disposal facility in Idaho.
He said workers will wear protective safety gear, including Tyvek suits, goggles, gloves and masks.
Rhea said his company will also conduct a radiological survey at Noonan and take samples to determine if any residual cleanup is necessary once the bags are removed.
He said his company is giving North Dakota a half-price deal on the project as a gesture of community service.
"We do work in North Dakota and this is a way to contribute," Rhea said.
The abandoned filter sock stash was reported to Divide County authorities in late February and the building was taped off by the sheriff's department to prevent the public from being exposed.
Filter socks are banned from disposal anywhere in North Dakota because it's assumed they exceed the state's 5 picocurie limit. They're used to filter saltwater from oil wells and other well fluids and tend to concentrate the naturally occurring radiation in soil layers.