BY MAIRE O’NEILL
It’s no secret that Kelly Beierschmitt, Los Alamos National Laboratory’s deputy director for operations has been looking for 180,000 square feet of space. Beierschmitt has thrown out that number at multiple public meetings during the last year or so. On Tuesday, that search was made more formal with an announcement that the Department of Energy/National Nuclear Security Administration proposes to lease property to provide workforce office and warehouse within a 50-mile radius of LANL, possibly in Los Alamos, Rio Arriba, Sandoval and Santa Fe Counties.
DOE/NNSA wants existing properties and is not looking for the construction of facilities or other structures.
“Minor modifications may be required to meet security and operational needs. No major modifications to the leased properties will occur. All structures and infrastructure will be pre-existing and consistent with local land use requirements,” the announcement states.
It says no hazardous chemicals or radiological materials will be stored at the warehouse facilities that would be considered harmful to public health or the environment, excluding normal cleaning supplies and other common use chemicals.
“Items that would be warehoused include items that are needed for LANL operations, including, but not limited to, material used to support LANL infrastructure (such as plumbing supplies, fencing, structural steel, glass, HVAC units, etc.), research and operational equipment, and office materials,” the announcement notes.
Beierschmitt told attendees of a recent virtual meeting of the Los Alamos Chamber of Commerce that he is currently looking for 180,000 square feet of space. He said LANL has one lease that they’ve launched on in Los Alamos and hopes to occupy that space by the end of the summer.
“We actually extended the circle out because we were saturating what we could do on the hill, to include a 50 mile radius, and we had 31 respondents to that Request for Information. Of those 31 respondents there are three that are somewhat interesting,” he said.
Beierschmitt said one of those three is actually space available in Santa Fe.
“We’re also in dialog with folks in Los Alamos about some space that might be coming on board in the not so distant future and we’re really encouraging them to get what they need done because we’ll need it,” he said.
Beierschmitt noted that all the discussions he has been having with the development community have not been changed by COVID or LANL’s teleworking options.
“I think that we’re within a week or two of converting that request for information into a request for proposals for office space and light lab… We’re optimistic that we’ll at least have availability of one, maybe two options that could give me close to about 100,000 square feet but I need 180,000 square feet so it won’t be able to get us all the way there. We’re still trying to work with the development community to see if we can’t fill in that gap,” he said.
During the Chamber meeting, Beierschmitt, in response to a question, discussed the concern of some small businesses that they will be pushed out of Los Alamos because of rent rates that are comparable to the plaza area in Santa Fe.
“That’s an interesting discussion that we’ve had among the leadership team. The Laboratory pays what we’re asked to pay but we’ve got deeper pockets than the small business community. That’s been a topic of our discussion frankly and one of the reasons we put the RFI out and went the 50 miles is that it allows us to pick spaces in Santa Fe, or Rio Arriba, Espanola – so that we don’t put all of that burden on top of business and limited space in Los Alamos,” he said.
He said space is so limited that he felt like LANL wouldn’t be successful meeting its needs even if there was more space available.
“We’re pretty optimistic about a location in Santa Fe right now. For some of our staff – there’s roughly 4,000 people that live in Santa Fe County – that’s a 15 minute commute as opposed to a 45 minute commute and for some staff in the Albuquerque area, they’ve got an hour and 15 or 20 minutes to commute. To drive to a Santa Fe office would be a lot more convenient. Of course, if we can find some good space in Espanola, the same sort of issues exist. I have people that live north of Espanola all the way up to Taos,” Beierschmitt said.
While there appears to be very rapid growth at LANL as indicated by the need for large amounts of office and warehouse space as well as the apparent increase in traffic and the shortage of housing for rent or purchase. Yet there is little information available on what is being planned overall at LANL
Almost a year ago, Beierschmitt told the Legislature’s Interim Committee on Radioactive Waste and Hazardous Materials at the University of New Mexico-Los Alamos that he expected the site facility plan for LANL to be 80 percent complete by the end of the year. He was also asked about the plan at a Los Alamos County Council work session in White Rock late last year following a presentation on some $5.5 billion in infrastructure planned for the site in the next five years. He was also asked by the Council if a Site-Wide Environmental Impact Study would be conducted due to the extensive work planned at LANL.
On Wednesday, Council chair Sara Scott said the County has been told the site facility plan is being worked on but admitted that she has not had any information on it in the last few months. The site facility plan addresses the current condition of the Laboratory and future needs based on the strategic plan for LANL. Triad National Security, as the prime contractor for LANL, is responsible for updating the plan annually with information provided by the NNSA. The plan is supposed to be used by Triad to manage and control the development of facilities and lands.
In a phone call with the Los Alamos Reporter Wednesday, Greg Mello, executive director of the Los Alamos Study Group, said Los Alamos and the community surrounding LANL need a comprehensive idea of what is going on in the LANL expansion and what the alternatives are.
Mello said a Site-Wide Environmental Impact Statement is needed and not a piecemeal and very partial glimpse of an evolving plan.
“As far as we can tell, pit production at LANL has doubled in projected price over the last three years just for 30 pits a year. We have no idea what lies beyond 30 pits a year. There are an enormous number of uncertainties and it would be in the interest of good government at the federal as well as the state and local level, to pin down these uncertainties so that everyone can properly plan,” Mello said. “We are also concerned that there could be, as there has been elsewhere in the weapons complex, wheeling and dealing going on with private developers that are building facilities of an inherently federal character and then create an income stream for themselves at a greater cost to the taxpayer than if the federal government built these for themselves.”
He concluded by stating that there are a lot of unanswered questions and that the DOE/NNSA announcement is not the way to introduce the public and local governments to what’s going on.
The announcement does not indicate if the office and warehouse space will be leased on a temporary basis pending construction of offices and warehouse space onsite at LANL.