Mikolanis Asks For Patience And Trust, Promises More Value-Based Community Engagement On Legacy Waste Cleanup


Michael Mikolanis, Manager of the Department of Energy’s Environmental Management Los Alamos Site Office (EM-LA) , has been out in public over the last couple of weeks updating the community on issues such as the progress made on the Middle DP Road project in Los Alamos, public outreach and the Justice 40 Initiative.

During a recent in-person and virtual EM-LA community forum at Fuller Lodge, Mikolanis discussed the strategic vision EM-LA is working on related to community engagement and how it is can be accomplished. He asked for patience and trust and promised more engagement.

“This is going to be different to what we’ve been doing in the past. My corporate partners have brought in some additional technical expertise because I want them focused on moving the mission forward. We’re building and laying out a calendar and working out how we go do this community engagement because we’re talking about a large number of people,” he said.

Mikolanis noted that seeking public input is not going to be as simple as sitting down in a room and asking what’s important to people. He said while that might be good, there will have to be some informing of the public on the scope of the cleanup project – what it entails, the risks of excavating material, loading into dump trucks, driving it down the hill though the communities, disposing of it in some landfill and then having more trucks come up the hill.

He said the communities and the tribal nations need to hear some of the potential impacts that process would involve and then the dialog begins. Longenecker & Associates are delivering a plan for how to do this – to describe the process of removing “everything” and what it would entail such as a lot of digging, exposing workers to all kinds of risks, shipping it through the community and bringing more stuff.

Conceptually Mikolanis said he would envision follow up sessions to engage the public on their values, their priorities and what is important to them. It was brought up to Mikolanis that seeing values-based input on cleanup from the tribes and communities had been discussed extensively in meetings throughout the region as far back 2018 and 2019, he said he wasn’t aware of that.

“At this point we’re doing it because it’s the right thing to do I wasn’t aware that we were talking about it since 2018. If we’ve been talking about it for the last four years, let’s go do something about it,” Mikolanis said. “I’ve heard, I’ve been listening, I’ve been meeting with government officials, members of the public, the (Northern New Mexico) Citizens Advisory Board, and I’ve heard over and over again, ‘the Department has a trust issue’, ‘The relationship with the community, the transparency’. I get it. We’ve been saying we would be doing things since 2018 with regard to engagement and we haven’t followed through on it. And now I’m up here telling you the same thing, and some of you might think this is just another bunch of pretty words.”

Mikolanis asked those participating in the forum for “some patience and a load of trust” and to hold him accountable for following through.

“I’m under no false illusions that this is going to be easy. I’m going to get 180 degrees in values and priorities and it’s going to be up to the Department to sort through that and make decisions based on what we’re hearing and where that feedback is coming from. Speak up if you’re not seeing progress or if I’m not walking the talk,” he said.

On other topics, Mikolanis noted that EM-LA was appropriated $292 million, which is $66 million more than the level being operating to under the continuing resolution.

“About $43 million of that goes to N3B to accelerate the cleanup work that we have. As soon as we got that budget and knew that the budget was being approved and sent out, we met with the New Mexico Environment Department to understand what their priorities are, what they would like to see us prioritize as we lean forward and accelerate some of that work. As we make decisions as to what kind of work to turn on, what kind of work to accelerate, we spoke with (NMED) to understand what are their priorities, what’s important to them so that we were turning on work that addresses New Mexico’s interests as well as driving our program to completion,” he said,

Mikolanis noted that some of the extra $43 million will be used for drilling new monitoring wells for the hexavalent chromium plume Interim Measure and Treatment.

“As part of the work plan we’re trying to understand what are the data gaps that will bring both agencies to consensus that we know enough to start proposing a final remedy. Now I have some of the budget to start leaning forward into drilling those additional wells. We also turned on some high priority repairs to the monitoring wells that we have deferred to be able to maintain work on other cleanup activities like DP Road,” he said.

Mikolanis said some of the budget will go to shipping some of the waste EM-LA has had to “park in containers that hold up” until the funding was available at the Middle DP Road Site so that the County can get back to developing it as soon as possible”.

“Now I have the funding to actually dispose of that extra material that we excavated,” he said, adding that some of the funding will also go to accelerating the cleanup of aggregate areas in the southern external boundary area.

He also shared that on May 5, the FY2023 congressional budget request was officially cleared by the Office of Management & Budget (OMB) and that the budget request from the President for the Los Alamos cleanup mission is nearly $332 million.