A flyer placed on trailheads near Pajarito Acres in White Rock in May prompted emails of concern to Los Alamos County Councilors and State Rep. Christine Chandler. Courtesy photo
The cover of a 1988 environmental impact statement on three options for a new route to Los Alamos through White Rock. Courtesy photo
BY MAIRE O’NEILL
Readers have been asking the Los Alamos Reporter for more than two months about the possibility of a new bridge being built across White Rock Canyon.
Long-time residents will remember that this is not the first time this idea has been discussed. In July 1988, H.W. Lochner, Inc., of Santa Fe prepared a draft environmental impact statement (EIS) for the Federal Highway Administration and the New Mexico State Highway and Transportation Department. See 1988 EIS
The description of the project said it had been proposed to “construct a shorter, more direct route from Santa Fe to Los Alamos to improve the safety conditions in the transport of hazardous waste from Los Alamos National Laboratory… to storage facilities, to provide better access from Santa Fe and the surrounding area to the Laboratory, and to provide for emergency egress from the Laboratory for civil defense and other emergency conditions”.
The EIS said “the planned facility is a four-lane, divided highway with limited access” and that all construction would take place between the Santa Fe Relief Route and N.M 4.
In May of this year, White Rock residents reported finding flyers on trailheads near Pajarito Acres and elsewhere. The flyer read in part, “Discussions of the Los Alamos National Laboratory Campus Site Plan currently include a research corridor crossing the Rio Grande in this area to connect Los Alamos with Santa Fe and Albuquerque. If you use this area and have concerns for future use, please voice them to LANL Management”.
The flyers seem to have been in response to remarks made by LANL Director Thom Mason during an all hands meeting at the Lab that indicated that there were discussions of using a route that included the Old Buckman Road to establish quicker connection to Los Alamos from Santa Fe.
In mid-May, Los Alamos County Councilors and Rep. Christine Chandler began receiving email from residents expressing their concern about the apparently renewed idea of building a bridge across White Rock Canyon.
A string of email correspondence ensued involving Mason, Chandler and Council Chair Sara Scott. Mason wrote that better connections to Santa Fe and Albuquerque had been discussed in a number of all hands meetings he had with staff.
“As I understand it, using the Old Buckman Road to the point where the Chili Line train used to cross the river has been previously considered,” he wrote. “I would expect any road constructed is subject to environmental reviews.”
Scott responded to emails from residents expressing their opposition to the route saying she had checked with County staff and there was no specific planning underway regarding alternate routes to either Santa Fe or Albuquerque but that there were ongoing discussions at the Laboratory regarding shorter routes to Santa Fe or Albuquerque.
“The County has and will continue to engage in site planning discussions with the Lab. Please recall that one of the seven strategic priorities adapted by Council in February is protecting and maintaining our open spaces, recreational and cultural amenities”, she wrote.
Another response from Mason said Scott has accurately captured the current status.
“We are looking at long range site plans and staffing trends. Back in 1990 when prior analysis was done 40 percent of LANL staff lived outside Los Alamos County and it was projected to grow to 50 percent by 2015. It is now at 60 percent and will likely continue to grow as we add staff given limited housing options in Los Alamos and White Rock,” Mason said.
He said one consideration is additional developable land for the County and another is transportation infrastructure, adding that many perspectives would have to be weighed for transportation infrastructure, including cost.
“In addition to enabling employment to grow there can be benefits to LA County residents by easier access to Santa Fe and points south as well as economic development benefits to bring the lab closer to surrounding communities which might help with some of the social and economic challenges you raise. Perhaps the road is part of the solution as opposed to the problem,” Mason said.
Rep. Christine Chandler told the Los Alamos Reporter Monday she is unaware of any County or State planning process that contemplates a bridge across White Rock Canyon.
“I am unaware of any County or State planning process that contemplates a bridge across White Rock Canyon. Over the years the idea has been occasionally floated, I think largely by Laboratory staff with the aim of shortening commute times between Santa Fe, Los Alamos and Albuquerque,” she said. “I believe the concept is being raised again by Lab staff although I am not certain of that as none have approached me as the State Rep for Los Alamos. I will certainly be alert to the issues raised by my constitutents should the idea gain any traction.”