Regional Coalition of LANL Communities board members, from left, Los Alamos County Councilor David Izraelevitz, Santa Fe County Commissioner and RCLC chair Henry Roybal and alternate Rio Arriba County board member Leo Marquez listen as Espanola City Councilor Peggy Sue Martinez asks questions during the board’s Nov. 15 meeting in Espanola. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com
Los Alamos National Laboratory Deputy Director of Operations Kelly Beierschmitt address the Regional Coalition of LANL Communities at their Nov. 15 meeting. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com
BY MAIRE O’NEILL
Regional Coalition of LANL Communities board members had a chance Nov. 15 to question Los Alamos National Laboratory Deputy Director of Operations Kelly Beierschmitt on issues related to the Lab’s recent disclosure of staffing increases and infrastructure improvement being planned.
Los Alamos County Councilor David Izraelevitz, secretary of the RCLC board asked Beierschmitt if he could come up with the spectrum of jobs to see what the regional impact of the $5.5 billion the Lab has announced it will spend in the next five years.
Beierschmitt said for the regional impact that has been done with pipeline development.
“ We have a white paper we have been working on at the request of Bob Raines with the DOE/NNSA. We’re seeking some support with how we develop that workforce for the future. If you look at rad techs for example, we know what that projection looks like. If you look at welders, we know what that projection looks like. With civil engineers – we’ve got that data. We actually have an organization that works with regional universities to try to share that information to develop additional programs,” he said. He added that Secretary of Workforce Solutions Bill McCamley has actually been quite helpful to LANL and that N3B, the cleanup contractor, is currently supporting programs at the colleges.
“Our needs are vast,” Beierschmitt said.
“It’s hard for the community to understand what $5 billion, $10 billion or $1 billion means in terms of employment – permanent versus temporary, the lead time, the training required. Is this something that requires one or two years of education in order to be a productive member of this versus a graduate school education,” Izraelevitz said.
“Whenever that information becomes available even if it’s minimal levels of detail, it would be very helpful for our economic development people but also the elected representatives to see what the impact is and if appropriate, to advocate that yes, this is a good thing,” Israelevitz said. “If the Laboratory wants support for these efforts we need to have the ammunition, the data, the information to be able to answer those questions and get buy in from the communities, to understand what our schools need, what our colleges need, what our apprentice programs need, what our communities need moving forward.”
Beierschmitt said fulltime employees that will live here and work at the Lab are going to be 1,000 a year for the foreseeable future. He said the subcontractor community represents 10 year contracts and LANL has that mapped out and some of the information should be readily available.
Alternate board member and Espanola City Councilor Peggy Sue Martinez, asked if there is any plan for affordable housing. Beierschmitt said he has been working with the surrounding communities.
“Los Alamos can do all that they can do and they still won’t be able to meet the needs so I think it’s very important for Espanola, the Santa Fe area and everything in between and above to participate in this discussion. The housing is going to be required everywhere,” he said. “I’ve got different demographics of people that would prefer to live in the Albuquerque area and southern Santa Fe because they have a husband-wife team with one of them working in Albuquerque and the other one works at the Lab so they have to split the difference. I have a group of employees that far prefer living in the Valley in Espanola because they like the more rural small town environment and then of course you’ve got the artsy type that likes the Santa Fe area. It’s really going to require all of the above.”
Martinez said she believes affordable housing is one of the most important issues facing Espanola right now.
“There is a crunch here in town and whatever is happening in Los Alamos is trickling down to us. Affordable housing here in Espanola is something that we’ve been looking at and trying to establish here. We would like to develop nicer, newer homes with some affordable housing in those neighborhoods also. So these are things that we’re definitely looking at in the community and it would be nice if the Lab would partner with us,” she said.
Leo Marquez, alternate board member for Rio Arriba County said he would like to see more economic development in Espanola Valley.
“Maybe we could have some of your less secure operations down here so that part of that workforce is based in the community down here. If you go back and you look at when the fires took place, when Los Alamos was in need, it was the Espanola Valley and Santa Fe, it was all of us that helped Los Alamos. It would be nice if some of those dollars were trickled down to the City of Espanola, to see new fire stations go up,” he said.
Marquez said one of these days Santa Fe, Los Alamos and Espanola are going to be considered the Tri-Metro or the Tri-Cities. He said the three communities are so close that they’re bonding and it would be nice to see a new fire station or infrastructure so that “we can back up Los Alamos – because we need each other”.
“We need to start planning and leveraging our funding,” Marquez said.
Beierschmitt told the board he needs 180,000 square feet of space and that Triad is entertaining leasing as the only option he has.
“We are aggressively looking for leases anywhere we can find them within this area,” he said.
RCLC Chair Santa Fe County Commissioner Henry Roybal said he had community members bring forward questions about the Department of Energy Order and the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board oversight at LANL, and asked what the Lab’s relationship is with the DNFSB since the changes were implemented.
“We have a very strong relationship with the DFNSB reps at the Lab. To my knowledge we have never denied them any information. They are invited to meetings, if they have requested any information they’ve received it. They’re very competent in executing their duties,” Beierschmitt responded. “I think our relationship is very strong. We’re transparent with our business as we should be.”
Roybal asked him to clarify for the board what the budget projection for infrastructure is for the next five or 10 years.
“I believe you’re going to get $5 billion for the next five years and $10 billion to $13 billion for the next 10 years. Is that correct?” he asked.
Beierschmitt responded that the next five years is pretty clear with a line of sight on how the money is going to be spent including what kinds of contracts and engineering services will be needed.
“We have a pretty clear understanding of the $5 billion. Our estimates over a 10 year period are at $10 billion and it’s been $10 billion from the very beginning. I think somewhere along the way somebody got confused and it ended up becoming a world of its own, but it’s been $10 billion from the very start. That $10 billion is also more fluid. Ten years out there might be programs that accelerate or programs that decline. So those projects are anticipated but don’t have the level of planning that the next five years has,” he said.
Roybal asked for suggestions on how young people in the communities could get a piece of the pie with some of the technical jobs anticipated.
Beierschmitt said anything Triad could do whatever it could to get the word out about what the projections would be on jobs so that the communities would understand what the needs would be. He said in some cases developers have been brought to him by community leaders.
“Part of their willingness to commit resources to go do that development is understanding what those future needs look like and the certainty around those future needs. Our Lab has been talking to the community to try ensure that the developers feel confident in making the investments,” he said.
Beierschmitt said the other thing that’s absolutely vital to the Lab is the pipeline development.
“The vast majority of the Lab’s staff actually grew up here, worked here. That’s a large proportion of the Lab staff. You think of the Lab as being the STEM-educated people on the hill and there’s a lot of truth to that, but that’s only a small portion of the Lab staff. The people that make the trains run, and my accountants, our engineers, they graduate from the local universities and colleges. My craftsmen come from the Valley and from Albuquerque. They actually go to our high schools,” he said. “So getting that word out in the community and in our educational institutes is vitally important.”
Beierschmitt noted that if someone gets a rad tech job or decides to become a technician, that doesn’t lock them in for their career.
“It means that you could be a deputy Lab director at some point. I started my career in 1982 as a summer hire on the railroad crew at Pantex. I started my professional career as a technician in 1984. I finished by Bachelor’ degree in 1987 and my PhD in 1992 while working full-time. Every school student in the Valley needs to understand that a technician could be a gateway into anything that you want to be. And I don’t think we are getting that word out enough, so if those two areas are done right, I think it would be vastly beneficial to Los Alamos National Laboratory,” he said.
Roybal also asked why the Lab doesn’t do more with renewable energy. Beierschmitt responded that he has a lot of scientists that love working on renewable energy but the Lab doesn’t define its missions basis.
“Those are defined for us by Congress and DOE/NNSA. That mission is how they fund us. They vote and the say they want us to deliver the following missions at Los Alamos and they monitor it very closely to track our progress and we get judged on that,” he said. “Having said that we do renewables.”
Roybal also asked Beierschmitt about recent allegations that the folks in Washington, DC, do not know what the Lab’s future plans are and how the money is going to be spent and if he thought that was true.
“The people in (Washington) DC know exactly what our plans are. They are our funding source. They hold our contract. They track everything that we accomplish and they measure our progress and accomplishments. They’re very well informed,” Beirschmitt said.
Roybal asked with all the activity at LANL would there be an environmental impact study done.
“I’m the wrong person to ask,” Beierschmitt said. “The Lab doesn’t have the decision authority relevant to the documentation. The NNSA makes those decisions based on a rigorous process that’s required by law. And they go through that process and they make that decision. Whatever the decision is, the Lab is always available to help if the need help with analysis or anything like that but it’s not our decision, it’s NNSA’s.”