NMED Denies DOE’s Request For Extension On Consent Order Milestone, Reviewing Second Request



Editor’s note: A letter from NMED to DOE EM/LA was posted to the electronic reading room following publication of this story indicating that NMED has approved the extension for the second milestone discussed below – Milestone #19.

The New Mexico Environment Department has denied a request for an extension submitted by the Department of Energy Environmental Management Los Alamos (EM-LA) Field Office for Milestone #14 in Appendix B of the 2016 Consent Order.

Milestone #14 involves the completion reports for wells R-5, R-7, R-8, R9i, R-19, R21 and R25 as well as plugging and abandonment of R-25,and was due Aug. 30. The request for an extension of the “Westbay Project” Milestone was submitted Aug. 26.

In a letter to EM-LA manager Doug Hintze, NMED Hazardous Waste bureau chief John Kieling said the Consent Order allows for extensions for good cause on receipt of a timely request. It states that the request submitted by EM-LA cited an unanticipated breakage of a line of pipe as a good cause for requesting the extension for the completion of wells R-5 and R-25.

On Sept. 4, NMED asked for additional information on the status of the other five wells which were not in the EM-LA request. Kieling’s letter indicates that EM-LA responded Sept. 11 indicating that well pad construction, data analysis and report preparation remained to be done on four wells and that on Aug. 24, low flow condition was discovered at R-31 that would cause a delay in the completion of the work associated with that well.

NMED pointed out that the request for an extension indicated that work did not begin on the five wells until May or June.

Kieling’s letter notes that DOE is requesting an additional seven months to complete the tasks associated with Milestone #14 which includes 45 days allocation after completion of the field work to draft the report and an additional 15 days to finalize the report and submit it to NMED.

“As Milestones are managed as a whole and are not partitioned, the review and evaluation of the request necessitated that NMED evaluate all wells under Milestone #14 to be assessed separate from the fact that work on three wells was delayed due to significant issues, May or June field start dates for the milestone work was not sufficient to successfully meet the due date of Aug. 30,” the letter states. “Even in the case of the wells that were partially completed, two of which were completed in mid-August, one of which was completed on the milestone due date and one of which was completed after the milestone due date, the milestone due date was still destined to be breached based upon the 60 day timeframe DOE has associated with report production and finalization.”

The letter said in reviewing the work associated with Milestone #14 as a whole and the information provided by DOE, good cause has not been shown and planning on the part of DOE is largely attributed to the delays associated with the achievement of Milestone #14, therefore pursuant to the Consent Order, NMED disapproved the extension request.

EM-LA has also submitted a request for an extension on Milestone #19 and an NMED spokesman told the Los Alamos Reporter that request is under review. Milestone #19 is “Field Completion Letter Report for Aggregate Area Known Cleanup Sites Campaign: Solid Waste Management Units 15-007(c), 15-008(b), 39-002(a), and 46-004(q).” In the 2016 Consent Order Appendix B, Milestone #19 as a “letter report documenting field completion of cleanups of the remaining four sites currently known to exceed soil screening levels. The FY 2019 version of Appendix B stipulates submittal of Milestone #19 by September 30.

EM-LA requested an extension for good cause under a section of the Consent Order which provides for an extension for “Any other event or series of events, including but not limited to new technical information or technological barriers mutually agreed to by the Parties as constituting good cause” as well as under the Force Majeure clause which would allow an extension due to “Act of God, natural disasters such as fire or flood, war, terrorism, insurrection, civil disturbance, or explosion.”

A letter from Hintze to NMED says EM-LA notified NMED Aug. 28 of the potential need to extend the submittal of Milestone #19, explaining that new site characterization data and subsequent preliminary risk evaluations had identified large additional volumes of contaminated soil requiring excavation (1325 cubic yards versus 356 cubic yards originally planned). EM-LA followed up with NMED Sept. 3 to reiterate that an extension request might be pursued.

Of the four solid waste management units (SWMU) in Milestone #19, required cleanup for three of them has been completed. According to Hintze’s letter, the site cleanup effort of the fourth site, SWMU 15-008(b), began with field site characterization work as planned on June 28.

“This startup date was planned in regards to the beryllium worker program implementation (medical surveillance requirements) and lifting of the Mexican spotted owl restrictions (March 1- mid May). The field work has produced new technical information, requiring excavation of approximately 1325 cubic yards of soil versus the approximately 356 cubic yards planned from initial site data. For SWMU 15-008(b), site cleanup area and volume along with confirmation sample locations were originally planned per information presented in the draft “Supplemental Investigation Report for Three-Mile Canyon Aggregate Area, Revision 1,” the letter states.

The letter says the excavation area was originally defined from existing soil sampling data for lead and copper and site cleanup of 356 cubic yards of contaminated soil was completed on Sept. 6. Then after mobilization in June for site characterization activities, some 279 new soil samples were collected in July and August to bound the excavation areas and make appropriate waste disposal determinations. After analytical results from the samples were evaluated, the information provided increased the original cleanup volume from 356 cubic yards to some 1100 cubic yards requiring excavation.

Analytical results from about 59 of the 279 soil samples were delayed due to Hurricane Dorian-related power outages and evacuations in South Carolina and a subsequent five-day closure of the contract laboratory. This resulted in the receipt of the results which caused the increase in cleanup volume being delayed until Sept. 12-13, the letter states.

The letter also discussed site access issues noting that actual site availability has been and continues to be impacted by the mission-critical firing site activities, which limited access to the SWMU by seven days in July and five days in August. To work around the firing site schedule changes, work was conducted 12 hours a day, seven days a week to compensate for some of the lost time; however, competing mission-critical activities continue to delay cleanup efforts, the letter said. Weather delays were caused by lightning and heavy rain also caused delays of about two days per month.

“Taking into consideration access delays from firing site activities, for which Triad is currently planning 14 calendar days, and anticipated lightning and other weather-related delays (2 days/month), EM-LA anticipates site cleanup at SWMU 15-008(b) will be complete by November 1, 2019. While cleanup continues at SWMU 15-008(b ), N3B is preparing the letter report. The report will only need to be updated with SWMU 15-008(b) completion information, which will save days of letter report preparation. Therefore, EM-LA proposes to submit the Known Cleanup Sites Letter Report documenting field completion of cleanups for all four sites by November 15,” the letter said.