Los Alamos National Laboratory deputy director of operations Kelly Beierschmidt addresses the Los Alamos County Council at their workshop session in White Rock Tuesday evening on LANL’s infrastructure plans. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com
BY MAIRE O’NEILL
A presentation to the Los Alamos County Council Tuesday evening in White Rock by Triad National Security’s deputy director of operations Kelly Beierschmidt on Los Alamos National Laboratory infrastructure plans included some new details as well as some of the information which has been discussed in the media since last June.
Under the regular rules for Council meetings, Council Chair Sara Scott allowed public comment prior to the presentation and announced that there would only be questions for Beierschmidt from Councilors afterwards.
Greg Mello of the Los Alamos Study Group told the Council under public comment that the presentation was not in a context where there would be detailed questions or accountability and that the Lab’s plans could evolve to be different. He said Congress has no idea about the plans and that he had spoken to congressional committees as recent as last month.
“This is proceeding in a fog which is actually unprecedented as congressional analysts have told me. There’s no environmental impact statement although this is a $13 billion capital program over 10 years. It will increase employment by thousands of people. We are a little bit concerned about the fiscal impacts on the communities here and communities elsewhere,” Mello said.
He also mentioned the increasing environmental impacts of the Lab’s operations such as having more commuters because there is very little housing in Los Alamos County that is affordable.
“There are a million questions about environmental impact… I’m sure that the (National Nuclear Security Administration) and the Laboratory do not fully understand the impacts of what they’re doing,” Mello said.
Introducing his presentation, Beierschmidt said the Lab is very solid financially.
“We’ve got important missions that are expected to continue for the foreseeable future that are important to the nation. We expect hiring to be at 1,000 a year for the next several years,” he said. Some 500 to 600 people are retiring annually and that they love the Los Alamos community and stay here which has exacerbated the housing challenges that Lab has, he said.
Beierschmidt said that over the past decade 60 percent of Lab employees lived on the hill but that now it’s closer to 40 percent and that he is asking a lot of Los Alamos County with regard to planning. He has also been meeting with Rio Arriba and Santa County officials as well as the City of Espanola because it will take the entire community.
“When I arrived last November, I heard three things. We simply have no parking. We have major transportation challenges because so many people are forced to commute. We have no cell phone coverage which is really bad in certain parts of the Lab area. We have one fiber cable that comes up our hill. I have reoccupied facilities that we had moved out of and had intended to run to failure so infrastructure absolutely had to be a top priority. Many of these facilities are 60 to 70 years old and we still rely on those facilities but we put new missions in them,” Beierschmidt said.
As expected, he addressed briefings over the last several months about the need for a connector road to Santa Fe and Albuquerque and showed a video with some of the information provided to Lab staff and a contractor forum and the Legislative Committee on Nuclear and Hazardous Waste earlier. He said the maps showing possible routes for the connectors are a “notional image” of what was considered.
“We don’t build roads. That’s not our business. I’ve got no authority to do that. Anything that get’s built, bridges, roads or a connector of any variety is in the space of the state, federal and local governments. That’s where those decisions get made. I just want to be really clear that we do not even presume to have the authority to go build roads and bridges,” Beierschmitt said.
He said the Lab expects the traffic situation to get worse and that he is encouraging other options for commuters such as park and rides, more options to work from home and trying to improve greenways.
“Transportation is an all of the above strategy for us and we’re pushing all of those things. But having said that as long as people continue to retire and love and stay in this community, then I will have more and more commuters because we expect between 500 and 600 retirees for the next several years,” Beierschmidt said.
Beierschmidt said that in looking at the local area, the pueblos have a lot to say and that he has met with Gov. (Perry) Martinez of the Pueblo of San Ildefonso on multiple occasions about opportunities that the Pueblo might have.
“What people might not know is that we have a Pueblo Alliance that joined Triad when we were developing the proposal to operate the Laboratory. That alliance is Tsay Corporation, the pueblo corporation for Ohkay Owingeh, the San I Services Corporation, which is the pueblo corporation for San Ildefonso and Acoma . Those alliances are Triad partners, if you will, and very much like to help us operate the Laboratory,” he said.
Beierschmidt mentioned that the Lab has a very old shipping and receiving facility in the center of the campus that needs to come down so that he can redevelop the area. Although he did not mention it Tuesday, the possibility of a shipping and receiving facility being located on San Ildefonso as previously been mentioned.
Beierschmidt noted that at some point the Lab may be in a position where it’s asked to restrict access on the main campus. He mentioned that family members were at the location of a mass shooting in California and that he didn’t want that to happen in Los Alamos.
“We’re an iconic lab and we may want to restrict access to the main Lab area. And to do that, I’ve got to do three things; I’ve got to move central shipping and receiving off that property, I’ve got to pass and badge outside my vehicle corridor and I’ve got to have a bi-pass route that allows all of our citizens and tourists to have easy access up to Jemez Springs,” he said.
Beierschmidt said the Omega Bridge is past its design life and that every year he has to have engineers go and engineer life into it through studies and other things. He said there’s going to come a day when the bridge has to be removed and rebuilt which would shut down major access to the Laboratory and that he is working with a suggestion that came from the County of putting up a second bridge and using the Omega Bridge as a greenway when the new bridge is completed.
Beierschmidt showed on a map 45 acres of land that was actually leased to the Los Alamos County Development Corporation about 20 years ago and said there’s currently one facility built on that prime real estate.
“We’ve been working with the LACDC to try to stimulate further development that will allow us to use that property to it full effect, either through operating leases or maybe purchases. That’s a heavy lift that we’re working very hard to also solve,” he said.
Beierschmidt said the entire site has been zoned with every zone having a plan. He noted that the Lab had difficulty getting contractors that can set up and deliver that level of activity and so a contractors meeting was held with more than 700 attendees where the plan which equates to more than $5.5 billion over the next five years and an expected $10 billion over the next 10 years was revealed.
“What that does is it renews old facilities that I should be condemning,” he said.
Beierschmidt said discussions have been held with the public, communities, economic development groups and developers.
Under Council questions, Council vice chair Pete Sheehey said Los Alamos is continuing to do its stock pile maintenance amounting to 30 plutonium pits per year which Congress said Los Alamos can do. He said there is talk of going beyond that to 80-100 pits per year which would be “another huge investment, potentially in Los Alamos, potentially elsewhere”. He asked if the $5.5 billion to $10 billion over next ten years are tied to those policy.
“I know there are a lot of buildings that just have to be scrapped and rebuilt, just to do what Los Alamos does today but how much of that money is just maintaining Los Alamos’ present work and how much is tied to these other bigger things such as more than 50 pits per year, such as potentially shipping surplus pits from Pantex to be cut up here and then shipped to Savannah River and then shipped back to WIPP. That’s another big investment, certainly another big draw in infrastructure. So are you looking at different contingencies or how much this $5.5 to $10 billion relates to the basic role as opposed to the expanded role?” he asked.
Beierschmidt replied that the Lab has “good visibility in the $5.5 billion”.
“The projects are close enough that we know what they are. The vast majority are just keeping the Lab doing what it’s doing but there is a small portion of it which is helping us with the 30 pits per year but does not consider us moving beyond 30 in any of those numbers,” he said.
Beierschmidt said he sees steady growth at the Lab for the next four years but that of course everything is subject to appropriations.
“If we end up not expecting all of that growth, we still have to replace retirees because we do know people that are aging toward retirement,” he said.
Councilor David Izraelevitz noted that the infrastructure issue was going to be long-term and asked Beierschmidt about interim measures such as express buses, encouraging people to carpool.
“Again, it’s all of the above. We encourage people to park and ride, expansion of the park and ride system. I can’t make people park and ride but I’m certainly encouraging them to do and certainly considering other options. It is a profit system, they have to stay in business and in some cases their ridership is not what they need it to be. Currently a lot of carpools set up for people that live in Albuquerque,” Beierschmidt said. He added that getting the transportation issue out to the business community also helps the business community help the Lab and that was part of the reason the Lab has been so vocal about the transportation issues.
“We may have missed an opportunity actually to improve one of our roadways which is probably worth us exploring in the future and I know Elvis probably left that building, but having a path allowing people that leave White Rock to not have to stop at the light at the end of the truck route, that would have relieved some of the challenges that we have,” he said.
Beierschmidt said one of the things people miss in the discussion is that it’s not just Lab growth that’s driving the needs, it’s the fact that the demographic is changing.
“I have people retiring that I’m having to replace and that retirement is going to continue. If those people want to live and work here, play here, retire here, they’re going to not sell their homes. And so working with the County considering all options, working and supporting the NNSA to consider future land use options for both the County and our other neighbors, is something that we’re driving very, very hard so that we can try to solve all the problems in a collective fashion,” he said.
Councilor Antonio Maggiore told Beirschmidt he appreciated him coming and presenting to the Council and that as Izraelevitz had said, “You’re welcome any time”.
“My question is what took you so long? Because you shopped this video out to contractors. You shopped your plan to the state government, to other government, but yet when it comes to shopping it with the community that’s going to be most directly affected, you really haven’t done it,” Maggiore said. “And it’s one thing to show a very slick video, a road across the canyon shaving 45 minutes from our commute time. It sounds great unless you happen to live on that canyon.”
Maggiore told Beierschmidt that like Izraelevitz, he appreciated his willingness to think outside the box.
“I think it’s sorely needed but I’m going to speak for some of the citizens of this County that are frustrated that the citizens themselves seem to be an afterthought for you in your decision-making. You come and you talk about community engagement but that hasn’t been here and you haven’t put yourself out in front of the community,” Maggiore said.
He said this wasn’t just Triad but every management company before Triad also.
“When LANS was running it, I’ve seen LANL present at the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board meetings and get up and walk away before public comment,” Maggiore said. “I think if we’re to move forward as a community, as a region, that attitude has to significantly change and that’s my only comment.”
Beierschmidt responded that he appreciated the invitation to talk to Council.
“I’m more than willing to speak to you anytime that you invite me. I do believe that community engagement is vital. It is core to Triad’s simultaneous excellence. We will continue to be open and transparent. If there is ever an issue that comes up that we haven’t communicated about, don’t assume it’s malicious. Please assume that we just haven’t know there’s an issue because there’s certainly no barrier for us to communicate on any and all issues that might come to your attention since you represent the community we live in,” he said.
Beierschmidt said Triad is more than happy to be always available to answer questions.
“I’ve worked very hard to have those discussions and I don’t always set the agendas and the time frame. I’m not a politician for example, I’m a fellow that’s trying to run the laboratories,” he said.
Chair Scott asked how the public will be able to access the result of the long-term planning process or engage with the folks that are working on it. Beierschmidt said he would need to talk to his public affairs people.
“I will continue to have my team meet routinely with the County manager and his team and certainly with my political affairs folks,” he said. He added that he and Burgess meet once a month and that their teams have been meeting on a more routine basis. He noted that Triad has a contract with an engineering firm that does this at other big research centers.
Chair Scott said the community would definitely be interested in the site plan when it is available.
Beierschmidt said that constant dialogue is vital and that when the master site plan is developed he’s inviting the County, N3B and NNSA to participate. He said he relied to date on Harry (Burgess) to say who he needed to speak to and when they should roll out information.
Asked about what was effective at other sites in terms of community engagement, Beierschmidt said he’s done public hearings, attended council meetings and a working group for planning, however he did not say whether or not a public hearing was planned for Los Alamos.
“The Laboratory – we’re not trying to hide anything. We’re trying to get stuff out for the community to understand what we’re doing and what our needs are and frankly, I think the County’s done a wonderful job to step up and begin addressing these needs,” Beierschmidt said.
Asked by Councilor Randy Ryti asked if there would be a sitewide environmental impact statement for the expansion, Beierschmidt said he didn’t have an answer.