BY MAIRE O’NEILL
Los Alamos County Council has notified the Department of Energy that it is not prepared to accept the the conveyance of land in Rendija Canyon on the terms DOE has offered.
In 2002, DOE agreed to convey the land to the County remediated to residential levels.
“The County discussed other options for reuse with NNSA but those options never included a restriction that does not permit the safe use of the land,” Council Chair Sara Scott said in a November 20 letter to NNSA Los Alamos Field Office Manager Mike Weis. She said the Conveyance Agreement for the cleanup of Rendija Canyon has not been amended by the County or NNSA.
Scott said the County has long made clear that its intent and desire is to accept the conveyance but not on the terms offered. The letter notes that the County discussed other options for reuse with NNSA but that those options “never included a restriction that does not permit the safe use of the land”.
“We have previously identified to NNSA unmitigated and inadequately addressed public health risks associated with the historic use of the property by the United States. Specifically, the potential for and location of unexploded ordnance (UXO) within the property has not been satisfactorily evaluated. Rather than performing the proper evaluation of this risk, an obligation of NNSA prior to conveyance to the County, NNSA is attempting to impose a broad land use restriction involving ground disturbing activities which, if accepted, compromises our intended future use and poses a possible risk to our constituents,” Scott’s letter states. “Further, your proposed language would impose on the County the cost and potential liability for any ground disturbing activities. Given the nature of UXO explosive risk, these are not appropriate responsibilities to be imposed on a municipal government.”
Scott referred to an investigation of the property by the Army Corps of Engineers using then available technology to detect metallic objects on and below the surface area.
“Although that technology was capable of detecting metallic objects at a depth of several feet below the surface, data in the Corps’ report was limited to what was detected a few inches below the surface. Whether this limited evaluation was an error in the drafting of the Corps’ scope of work or a failure on the part of the Corps in performance of its contractual obligation is unclear. However, for the County, this level of detection represents an unacceptable risk, and requires substantive corrective action, not merely a limitation on ground penetrating activities; the proposed land use restriction is an acknowledgment of the validity of our concerns,” the letter states.
Scott said the intended County use and public access require confidence in the safety of the site.
“Given the defect in the investigation and/or report and the potential risk, the statutorily required deed warranty condition clearly stating ‘..all action necessary to protect human health and the environment has been taken’ has not been met,” she wrote. “We look forward to and are prepared to accept the conveyance, but not on the proposed terms and stand ready to work together to identify an appropriate path forward; I am available to discuss this matter with you at your convenience.”
The Rendija Canyon property has not been discussed on any recent Council agenda, however, County Manager Harry Burgess updated Council on the DOE proposal in late October saying legal counsel for the County was preparing a draft response. Scott then mentioned at Tuesday’s regular Council meeting under her chair’s report that the November 20 letter had been sent.
See recent Los Alamos Reporter stories on the issue below: