N3B’s Regulatory and Stakeholder Interface Manager Frazer Lockhart addresses a large crowd Wednesday evening at Fuller Lodge during a forum on legacy waste at Los Alamos National Laboratory. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com
Department of Energy Environmental Management Los Alamos Field Office Manager Doug Hintze, left, speaks with New Mexico Environment Department Secretary James Kinney Wednesday evening at Fuller Lodge. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com
Awaiting their turns to speak at Wednesday’s forum are, from right, Frazer Lockhart, N3B Regulatory and Stakeholder Interface Manager, Dave Nickless, Completion Project Delivery, EM-LA Field Office, and Joe Legare, N3B Executive Officer. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com
Glenn Morgan, President/Program Manager for N3B, chats with Los Alamos County Council Chair Sara Scott, center, and Rep. Christine Chandler prior to Wednesday’s legacy waste cleanup forum at Fuller Lodge. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com
BY MAIRE O’NEILL
The message was clear at Wednesday evening’s Environmental Management Cleanup Forum at Fuller Lodge hosted by the Department of Energy’s Environmental Management Los Alamos (EM-LA) Field Office and legacy cleanup contractor N3B. That message, according to EM-LA manager Doug Hintze was that the Department of Energy is changing its way of doing business as far as community participation.
“We’re not asking for input – you’ve been giving us input. We’re asking for participation to make sure you understand the risks that we have, the challenges including funding, the cleanup standards and so forth. We’re asking for your participation,” he told a packed room.
The meeting opened with a video message from Congressman Ben Ray Lujan who noted that the cleanup work is critical for New Mexico families, the environment, the economy and the state. He said he is fighting to get the funds needed to effectively get the job done and thanked N3B for their commitment to regularly engage the community in the legacy cleanup work.
Environment Department Cabinet Secretary James Kenney told the group that the legacy of the environment being New Mexico’s greatest natural resource is something NMED is very adamant about protecting and takes very seriously. He said NMED will begin holding quarterly meetings in communities throughout the state including a meeting in Los Alamos July 8. At that meeting the moving of the Department’s DOE Oversight Bureau to Santa will be discussed as well as the Consent Order, cleanup and the chromium plume.
Hintze said DOE noted that that community participation on cleanup is an extensive program that’s going to require meetings, discussions and workshops, at all different levels, with information going out in different forms that include not only the width and the breadth of the information but at meetings so that people could come and talk in person.
“We’re just whetting your appetite now as we go forth. We are part of the community, we live here, we drink the water and breath the air so as we go forward and are trusted to make the good decisions, we need to make sure that you have the information. For the next couple of years we’re going to have a lot more extensive interface and we need you to have that participation for us to go forward and do the right thing,” Hintze said.
He said he is tired of what he called “D and D” – decide and defend.
“We have very technical people who look at all the data and then say this is the right thing to do based on what we have. That is only partially the answer. The rest of it is all of us as a community being able to say this is what we want because this is not only for us who are cleaning up, for you who are here, it’s for our kids, and our grandkids and all the kids that come from here on out,” Hintze said. “So we need participation and we don’t want you to come back five years from now and say I don’t like what you decided. It’s what we decided as a community so we recognize we need to change the way we’re doing business and that’s what we’re starting right now.”
N3B President/Program Manager Glenn Morgan said N3B wants to be very transparent with what they’re doing.
“Our contract is non-classified so we can be very, very transparent in everything we do. One of the other things we want to do is be able to help you participate in these meetings – give you the right information, the correct information in the transparency of all that information that’s out there, to help you make the educated decision and participate in that decision-making process”, he said.
He said the company is starting out at the baseline and that members of the public is going to be able to get down as deep as they want to.
“If you want to see the sample results without any analysis you should be able to see those in a format that you can easily get to,” Morgan said.
N3B’s Regulatory and Stakeholder Interface Manager Frazer Lockhart spoke passionately and at length about stakeholder engagement being central to decision-making.
“Well-informed decision-making requires sustained stakeholder engagement. The minimum and the “have to’s” don’t really get to the best decisions. The best decisions come when we understand the values of the community, the things that are of interest to the community, what bothers them the most, what they’re concerned about the most, and when those kinds of concerns and interests get baked into the decision-making process” he said.
He said the broader view of getting the public’s input is really what DOE and N3B were trying to kick off at the meeting. He said the decision-making needs to be informed so it street.
“We have to give you information. At the same time we need to hear from you. A big part of that is operating in a way and sharing information in a way that works for you, striving to operate in an open, honest, accurate and timely manner. In my mind being open means that we have to open to different ways of thinking of the problem. We may have an idea that we think is clear as can be… but if that way of learning doesn’t work for you, or if that information doesn’t resonate with you the right way, it’s not helpful,” Lockhart said. “Want you to tell us the way in which it will be most helpful for this information to come to you. Is it meetings like this? Is it social media? There are lots of ways we can engage with you so that you can be informed and participate in a meaningful way in that decision-making process. That’s really what this meeting is about.”
Lockhart said N3B knows the regulatory concerns to a large extent and are being applied at the Lab but that the needed piece is the understanding of the community’s values and interest. He said a big part of that is that N3B recognizes is that the viewpoints are diverse.
“There are lots of different interests here, even in a relatively small community, in a relatively small footprint at least compared to some of the other DOE sites around the country,” he said.
“Why now? Why are we standing up here today? We are now to the point where what we are doing related to environmental remediation is about to shift into another gear. There’s been lots of great work done by the Laboratory over the decades that have preceded us but a lot of it has been gathering information, characterizing the different environmental concerns, the releases and the other problems. We’re at the point now that in the next few years ahead of us, what N3B is expected to do by the DOE is to move some of those things forward and essentially move on to the cleanups,” Lockhart said. “But those cleanups follow the decisions so that’s the reason that the time is now to get you involved. We hope you’ll share the information with your friends and neighbors and colleagues to get them involved and have them bring their interests and values into the process as well.”
In wrapping up the forum, Hintze reiterated that EM-LA is serious when talking about changing the way of doing business.
“I heard some of the questions – there’s a bit of a tone of skepticism in the tone of some of them and you have a right to be skeptical because of the experiences you’ve had and they way that the information has been put out. We’re changing the way of doing business and in order to do that, need you,” he said.
Jay Coghlan, executive director of New Mexico Nuclear Watch asked if there were going to be questions. Hintze replied that there would not because it had was decided that the meeting would be just an introduction.
“Questions, comments, everything like that will be in all of our future meetings as we go forward. So this is just to get folks understanding what we’re trying to accomplish at this time here,” Hintze said.
Coghlan responded that the meeting was well-orchestrated and controlled. Lockhart thanked Coghlan saying he would take that as a compliment.
“We want to try and set a format for the direction we want to go. There are a lot of different interests and we wanted to make sure that the broadest possible cross-section has an opportunity to be represented and express their concerns and interests and that’s what we’re launching here. There are so many interests to try and cover all tonight and to give everyone a chance to speak we were just concerned we’d be here till midnight. So there was some rationale behind why we crafter this the way we did for this first meeting. It is just the first,” Lockhart said.
Coghlan later told the Los Alamos Reporter that EM-LA “have repeated rhetoric for full and complete transparency.
“They’re making the claim that more than half the cleanup is completed. This of course is representative of hidden decisions already made to leave behind the vast majority of waste. So this meeting was just a complete sham and it was carefully controlled really, to make it all look warm and fuzzy when it’s not,” he said.
Coghlan said he felt it would have been better if there had been a format for open discussion.
“They had too much of an opportunity to control the questions through written submissions and pick and choose what they want. Future meetings should be quite different with open and free discussion,” he said. “I’m fully-prepared to push for the transparency that they claim that they’re operating with.”