BY JAMES ROBINSON
Los Alamos County Council
Editor’s note: The Los Alamos Reporter introduces Councilor Corner, which contains recaps and observations of Los Alamos County Council meetings by Vice Chair James Robinson as a public service. In depth coverage of various agenda items from Council meetings will continue to be featured as usual.
On Tuesday night, the Los Alamos County Council met for our regular session. The session went late into the night, but a lot was covered.
We began the night with a COVID-19 update. The County continues do well in cases, with only 9 new cases in the last two weeks. With that, we should maintain our turquoise status later today. The County is also continuing to excel in vaccine sign-ups and distribution. An additional 570 people have registered to receive the vaccine, bringing the total number of citizens registered to 12,636 or about 82.2% of all residents. About 30.2% of those registered have received both doses. The County is hosting a mass clinic on April 25 targeting those still are in the upper phases and aged 16 and older.
Next, the council received a presentation from Mike Weis, Department of Energy National Nuclear Security Administration Los Alamos Field Officer Manager, who provided Council with a brief update on how the Los Alamos Site Office is organized, and the work they are tasked with at the Laboratory. Additionally, he provided an overview of the effort to characterize and reduce Per and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) at the Laboratory. These are forever chemicals found in industry that can bioaccumulate in the food chain. There is no evidence to suggest there is a plume at the laboratory, and PFAS continues to be a national issue. There will be more to come on this contaminant. I asked Mr. Weis about the availability of land transfers to the County to meet our housing needs, and despite the ongoing progress on Rendija Canyon (which is not currently designated for housing), Mr. Weis said there is no land currently identified.
The Council then received presentations from State Rep. Christine Chandler and lobbyist Scott Scanland. Representative Chandler mentioned how surprised and impressed she was with the progress of the session despite the pandemic and security issues. After reviewing the various bills she thought important, Council had a conversation with her about the broadband bills. The two bills passed by the legislature would create an Office of Broadband and establish $100 million dollar fund for projects. This office would prioritize projects and funding across the state. Representative Chandler encouraged Council and staff to pursue funding from this office and federal sources should we move forward on our own community broadband (more on that later).
Mr. Scanland then provided an update on the various measures that were on interest to the County based on our Legislative Priorities. He reported that the County received $600,000 dollars for the White Rock Community Center, after only requested $300,000. The increase will really help with design costs of this facility. A lot of Mr. Scanland’s presentation focused on the recent passage of the marijuana bill. The bill itself is over 180 pages, but the key take away from Mr. Scanland was that enforcement will need to discussed and training provided to local law enforcement. He expects the state will provide that training since it will be an issue for the whole state.
Next, the Council approved the consent agenda and its various items.
The Council then held a public hearing and authorized a resolution of an Intercept Agreement for the North Central Regional Transportation District (NMRTD) to finance the construction of an Espanola Maintenance Facility, electric bus acquisition and charging infrastructure at the Taos Operations and Maintenance Facility.
Council then approved the purchase of a solar water fountain for the White Rock Community Garden. The Arts in Public Places Advisory Board requested $15,000 of Arts in Public Places funds be used to purchase the fountain and sculpture for the area. The artist, Gary Robertson, will install the sculpture, and it should be a nice addition to the area.
Moving on, the Council was then briefed by the Department of Public Utilities about the proposed natural gas increase. This item was pulled off the consent agenda at the request of Councilor Sean Williams, and requests Council authorize an increase budget for purchased natural gas. Due to the Polar Vortex in February, natural gas supplies were greatly reduced in Texas causing an increase in price in gas across the country. This increase cause the DPU to use its existing budget for the FY 21 year (which expires in July). This increase n natural gas will be 99 cents per therm for the next 6 to 8 months. After which, the rate will return to the current market rate.
The Council discussed potential impacts on those residents that are poorer or on budget billing. The DPU recommended that citizens on budget billing look at their budget and make adjustments. DPU personnel will be happy to help you make those changes. Unfortunately, the Utility Assistance Program ended in March, but Councilor David Izraelevitz mentioned there are several local organizations that can help those who need assistance with their utility bill. Moving forward the Utilities Policy Board will discuss adding a measure that allows the Utilities Assistance Fund to be used if this pass through is needed again.
County Manager Harry Burgess then presented two items for his County Manager’s Report. Mr. Burgess reported that the County is looking to remove the logo on 15th Street and Central Avenue. After 5 years, the logo has not withstood the elements as it was advertised, and to repair the logo would cost as much as removing it. Additionally, he reported that the New Mexico Environmental Department approved DOE’s preliminary screening plan for DP Road, so sampling activities on DP Road will commence shortly.
Council then discussed the next steps for community broadband. Originally designated to discuss a budget item for a “Needs Analysis”, discussion among Council appeared to center on getting an up-to-date cost estimate of running fiber to each home in the County, a cost/benefit analysis of that work, funding scenarios, and discussion on if we run a local ISP or rent out the infrastructure. Due to the cost, this item could result in a bond election. For me, I feel like broadband could be this generation’s major investment in Los Alamos’s future. We are recently seeing the benefits of the massive investment in the hydroelectric plants at El Vado and Abiquiu lake made by the community several decades ago, and I feel this investment will only make our community more attractive and ready for the future.
Finally, Council discussed the naming of the new pool being constructed at the Larry R Walkup Center. Previous names included the “kiddie pool” and “multi-generational pool”, but Council has expressed a desire to change it. After turning down the idea to ask the Parks and Recreation Board to provide names, the Council proceeded through a series of votes. In the end, the “Leisure Lagoon” was recommended by Chair Randall Ryti, and accepted by Council.
The next Council meeting will be at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, April 19. If you have any questions, please feel free to email me at email@example.com and I will be happy to help.