Neptune Addresses Legacy Waste Cleanup Community Engagement Effort At Taos Meeting

IMG_3766 (2).jpgDepartment of Energy Environmental Management Los Alamos Field Office Manager Doug Hintze, standing, addresses Friday’s Regional Coalition of LANL Communities Friday in Taos as board members, Darien Fernandez, left, and Peter Ives look on. Photo by Maire O’Neill/

IMG_3763.jpgTom Stockton, left, and Paul Black of Neptune and Company listen to questions at the Regional Coalition of LANL Communities meeting Friday in Taos. Photo by Maire O’Neill/


Neptune and Company of Los Alamos gave a presentation at the Regional Coalition of LANL Communities meeting in Taos Friday afternoon on their contract for enhanced stakeholder engagement throughout the region on Los Alamos National Laboratory legacy waste cleanup.

Department of Energy Environmental Management manager Doug Hintze told attendees DOE-EMLA did an assessment late last year and came to the conclusion that they are not doing a good job with regard to stakeholder participation. He said the Neptune presentation by Paul Black and Tom Stockton is part of a program now being implemented to address that and that so far three meetings have been held to introduce the enhanced stakeholder participation program to include not just input but decision-making in what the cleanup program does and how it is done.

“Our work is not classified. It’s to clean up the environment, not just for us but for our kids, for all the generations to come after us. All the folks here should be involved in the decision-making as we go forth,” Hintze said.

He said fourth meeting will be held Aug. 22 in Santa Fe and after that the next phase in the process will kick off which is why Neptune was making their presentation on the workshops they will be conducting to identify community values.

“This program is much more than just these couple of phases and yet we don’t have everything set in stone. It’s going to be constantly evolving. There will be technical meetings, there will be continuous updates like this here as well as workshops and public tours of the areas we have up there (in Los Alamos),” Hintze said. “It’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon and it will be going on for years. The one thing we ask for is participation….It needs to be all of us involved.”

Neptune’s Paul Black pointed out that stakeholder involvement is a two-way engagement. He said the program was originally set up with input from EPA in the early 2000s as an effective way to get decision-making done and engage stakeholders in that process. He stressed that the program involves strictly legacy waste and not anything else that is going on at the Lab.

Hintze explained that the legacy cleanup program involves any waste or contaminated sites that occurred before 1999. Anything that occurred after that is called new generation waste, he said, and the reason why it was split at that point is because the Office of the Environmental Management came into existence in 1989 at the end of the Cold War and in the first 10 years, there were many facilities that were given over to the program.

“There was not enough funding to do enough of it, so  in 1999, the Department of Energy said no more, what’s in the environmental management program to be taken care of, that’s the limit. That doesn’t mean that sometime in the future when we work off all of those cleanups from that period that we might expand but at this point it is only anything before 1999,” he said.

Black said Neptune’s goal is to get people involved through value-focused safety – trying to find out what are the stakeholder concerns, what matters, what are their values, what is their value system. He mentioned a book published in 2012 called “Structured Decision Making” by a group of professors from the University of British Columbia.

“Values are what we care about and should be the deciding force in decision making. The only reason we have a decision to make is because we care about something. So let’s figure out what we care about first. First want to understand what the value system is and then what we’re seeking after that is what actions can we take or what alternatives or options or actions can we take that actually help us achieve those objectives achieve what matters to us,” he said.

Black discussed how the “decide and defend” process is sometimes expanded to “decide, announce and defend”.

“That approach is set on alternatives and what we find is there are many stakeholder groups that have many different views of what’s important, what matters to them. This goes all the way from the New Mexico Environment Department to DOE, the contractors there and anyone else that’s engaged in it. So here, the Regional Coalition, other stakeholder groups, general members of the public- they’re all stakeholders involved in this. So there’s a wide array of opinions about it. One of the reasons we don’t like the decide announce defend is there seems to be an argument about alternatives. People often butt heads about alternatives, whereas if we back up to value systems, people actually share the same basic values. They might differ somewhat but nobody wants to spend money on things they don’t think it should be spent on. In general value systems are not too different and it helps create a dialogue that we want to hear from everybody about what they think about this.”

He said that instead of taking the alternatives based approach into solving the problems, Neptune is taking the values-based approach.

“There are two sides to a decision problem and one side is understanding the science of the problem so in this case it’s the science of cleanup – what are the contaminants, where are they moving , where might they meet their accessible environment where people might interact with the contamination. The other side is the value system and then the balancing of those two is what brings us together to find the best decision”, Black said.

He said interactive sessions with stakeholders broadens the scope of how the legacy waste cleanup program thinks about the problems which is really important.

“If we’re all stuck at LANL and it’s just LANL and the contractors thinking about this, we ‘ve all been doing this work for so long that we think this way and what we need to do is broaden the perspectives. Beyond what matters to the community, once we understand that, we can probably all talk more easily about different options to achieve those objectives or satisfy those concerns,” Black said. He added that beginning in October, Neptune will return to community groups and start the process.

Is his concluding remarks, Hintze said It is a very important to clean up the legacy waste.

“All of us should be together on what we’re doing or we’re not doing, because most of the community is not even informed of the challenges, to help with the decisions. For me, it just goes back to that’s the way I’m used to doing business,” he said. “…Around here we talk about the Consent Order, about the NMED. We here, seem to rely more on them and maybe that’s because they are involved in the process. Other places, the regulator’s job is just to be the minimum. The community itself says we might even want to clean up above those standards. That’s the result we’re trying to get to here. We shouldn’t rely on the regulator who has to make sure that we’re meeting an EPA or a New Mexico standard. We, the community may decide that we want to go further for cleanup and that’s what we want to do – to raise the community to be the voice and not the regulator in this process.”