Map showing the area of Los Alamos National Laboratory requested by Los Alamos County. Screen shot/Los Alamos Reporter
BY MAIRE O’NEILL
The Department of Energy National Nuclear Security Administration has denied a request from Los Alamos County Council for some 3,074 acres southwest of White Rock to be used by the County for housing, retail, mixed-use, industrial and recreational purposes.
A proposal sent to DOE in December asked that the County take over Los Alamos National Laboratory Technical Areas 36, 70 and 71 which are located south of State Road 4 and west of Pajarito Acres. The proposal stated that the County intends to focus on the development of commercial, retail, mixed use and industrial uses in TA-36, with the emphasis on new housing in TA-70 and TA-71. The proposal noted that topographical challenges exist in the 3,000 acres and that the portions that could be used for housing, commercial and industrial needs would be about 275 acres.
“The County is encouraged by the fact that NNSA has expressed a willingness to cooperate with the County on this transfer. NNSA has previously indicated that it would be open to reevaluating the availability of its property as the Laboratory needs evolve,” the County’s proposal stated.
The DOE memorandum in response dated July 21 states that in order to provide a comprehensive evaluation of opportunities for land conveyance, Triad National Security, LLC and NNSA undertook a site-wide analysis examining all land from the perspective of suitability, mission, growth and constraints.
“After a careful review of this analysis, NNSA has determined that there are currently no excess land tracts suitable for conveyance and economic development under 10 CFR 770. The Los Alamos Field Office will continue to evaluate opportunities for land conveyance and publish an annual list of any real property appropriate for economic development conveyance under 10 CFR 770,” the DOE memorandum from NNSA manager Michael Weis said.
Although the memorandum was not on the agenda or presented for review at the Los Alamos County Council virtual meeting Tuesday evening, Councilor Antonio Maggiore read written comments on the memorandum during the councilor comments portion of the meeting.
“I’d like to say this is a request that we were urged to make by LANL, and let’s remember why we both pursued it as a county and were encourage to pursue this request – it’s for our favorite catch-all phrase, ‘economic development and housing’,” Maggiore said. “Why? – To aid in recruitment efforts at LANL and to support their ongoing operations. So, at LANL’s urging, we pursued this land transfer only to be told after quite some time that they had no land available.”
He said before he said that before he got a talking down to” by any of my fellow counselors with regard to colorful language that may follow, he would like to add that the charge of incivility is only ever deployed to silence dissent.
“LANL, DOE and NNSA must do better if they want to be viewed as a trustworthy institution or as a sincere regional partner. LANL consistently wants and takes from this community. Not only do they take, they expect us to give. We give up our downtown as they take our retail spaces and subject our few surviving businesses to ever-increasing rents and increased burdens – all the while complaining that this town doesn’t offer enough for them to recruit the minds they so desperately want,” Maggiore said.
He said it is increasingly clear that LANL and NNSA have no interest in being real partners with Los Alamos County or any of its surrounding communities.
“It is clear they don’t have our best interest at heart – it’s highly questionable that they even have their own long-term interests at heart. Scratch that – it’s not even that they don’t have their own best interests at heart – they don’t even have them in mind,” Maggiore said. “Their proposed solution to our housing shortage is to build a $1 billion, if not more, bridge across the Rio (Grande) so their employees who live in Albuquerque can have shorter commutes – local environment and existing residents be damned.”
He said that’s not partnership, that in fact it’s the exact opposite.
“We have neighboring communities that with a far smaller investment would yield far higher returns on both the political goodwill front and the local regional economic impact front,” Maggiore said.
He said if LANL should deal in good faith with anyone, it should be with Los Alamos County.
“I’m giving notice that anything that comes before us to benefit LANL without directly benefitting us or our surrounding communities at least twice as much as it benefits them, is a non-starter for me. Their bad faith dealings have gone on long enough,” Maggiore said. “It’s increasingly clear in all their actions that they don’t care for us, our environment or our neighbors. I find it incomprehensible and utterly unnerving that an institution made a whole branch of government devoted to nuclear weapons and stockpile stewardship can be so shortsighted and selfish. It makes me question any decisions that come out of an organization so inadequately morally compassed.”
He referred to the discovery in recent months of contaminated material on DP Road property which was handed over to the County and is being developed for affordable housing by a private company.
“Why should we or any of our neighboring communities consider a partnership with an entity that when they actually do hand land over to us to use, is still contaminated, making us on Council look like fools for believing they actually cleaned the land. Now we, and previous councils, made the whole County look like not only suckers, but entitled insensitive even bigoted a–hats who chose to put affordable housing on polluted ground. Why? Simply because we believed them,” Maggiore said. “LANL, DOE, (Environmental Management), everyone, must make immediate steps to improve not only their image but their support of regional health especially in these trying times.”
He went on to mention that LANL both testing abilities as well as “a fleet of RVs whose sole purpose is literally to drive around and test people”.
“Why not use these vans to drive around and test people all over the region? Why should it take me or anyone else in the community who goes to the Public Health Office more than four days to get their test results when LANL employees get theirs within 36 hours max?,” he asked. “We talk about addressing implicit bias and preferential treatment by our police. Let’s make no mistake, the recent and ongoing behavior of LANL is just as blatant and egregious and dismissive of communities of color. Triad, LANL, EM, DOE can and must do better to regain and keep the trust and goodwill of both their own and surrounding communities.”
Councilor James Robinson said he wanted to echo his agreement with Councilor Maggiore.
“I was also very disappointed in the decision not to give us the land. This decision affects our ability to meet the demand that DOE is generating and forces us to utilize what little land we have left. I’m just going to end it with a quote from Robert Gibson when we had the housing study – ‘This is a problem that DOE needs to come to the table to solve’. We shouldn’t be expected to give them our amenities or what little land we have left to solve a problem that they are creating. I’m hoping that this will help stir conversations to help the whole region and not just Los Alamos,” Robinson said.
Councilor Pete Sheehey also weighed in on the memorandum.
“On Councilor Maggiore’s comments, with which Councilor Robinson courageously agreed, that letter struck us all out of the blue. I do believe there are people in DOE at the Lab and in Washington who understand you do have to work with the community, however, there are people in those organizations as well who are not clear on the concept,” Sheehey said. “We will need to address out allies in Washington, locally, including our congressional delegation to get it straight that you work with the region, with the community you’re within and if you do it right, you can get a win-win for everyone.”
He said the DOE memorandum was “disconnected from the realities of our situation”.
“I think it’s perfectly right for Councilor Maggiore to bring up that whole issue, in rather pithy language, but I cannot argue with the substance of what he said. So we do need to work with our government to get connected to the local situation,” Sheehey said.
“We’ll just say a press release regarding that letter went out this afternoon or was to go out this afternoon to send some information about that to the community,” Council Chair Sara Scott said.
The press release had not been released Tuesday afternoon but rather, according to Julie Habiger, the County’s public information officer, will be released at 8 a.m. Wednesday.