DOE/NNSA Los Alamos Field Office Manager Ted Wyka addresses Los Alamos County Council during Tuesday’s work session in White Rock accompanied by Stephanie Stringer, NNSA Asst. Manager for Mission, Assurance and Infrastructure, and Kristen Dors, NNSA NEPA Compliance Officer. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com
BY MAIRE O’NEILL
Editor’s note: Watch for further coverage of the NNSA presentation including questions and comments from Council members.
Department of Energy/National Security Administration (NNSA) Los Alamos Field Office Manage Ted Wyka told Los Alamos County Councilors at their workshop session Tuesday evening in White Rock that he very much values the partnership NNSA shares with the County and all the support it gives to NNSA.
“We are all stewards of the land in and surrounding this community and this collaboration is critical to successfully implementing our responsibilities for the greatest benefit,” he said. “I also appreciate the time we get from your County Manager Steve Lynne and his team. I believe the monthly meetings we have are very helpful in maintaining an open dialogue and identifying areas of mutual opportunity”.
Wyka went on to discuss multiple topics including LANL’s budget for FY2024, hiring projections, transportation opportunities, housing and work locations status, and NNSA land transfers as well as the Site-Wide Environmental Impact Statement (SWEIS) and ongoing fire mitigation efforts.
“In talking with Dr. Thom Mason and NNSA Headquarters I am very confident that LANL is in a solid funding position,” he said. “LANL’s mission space as the nation’s Plutonium Center of Excellence is and will continue to be heavily subscribed in the coming years. In addition, their global security and science programs are also expanding so we are seeing very well-rounded growth.”
With all the projected mission growth, Wyka expects LANL will continue to need more staff and will hire an additional 2,000 new staff this year and slightly less in the years after that. He said given retirements and normal attrition those hiring projections should remain constant for the foreseeable future. LANL presently has roughly 15,500 total staff.
Wyka said an offshoot of this hiring is that he is hearing from the community that the supply of available workers is shrinking for small businesses.
“While I will never apologize for the high wage jobs NNSA and LANL offer, we do need to look at more ways to partner with our local communities to grow the available workforce,” he said. “Our priority is going to continue to be to hire locally and thus we need to develop a larger workforce.”
Wyka acknowledged that an additional consequence of hiring more people is the stress it will place on the regional transportation structure. He noted that reconstruction of the State Road 4 intersection at the bottom of the Truck Route is slated to begin at the end of March.
“Once completed – the target is this November – the project should significantly improve traffic flow to and from White Rock. However, expanding our road capacity will not completely solve our growth challenges,” Wyka said.
He said LANL is making several proposals to his office to dramatically increase the use of mass transit to bring more staff up the hill in fewer private vehicles, offsite parking facilities, longer distance bus service, and improved onsite shuttle service to move staff around more efficiently. He said LANL will also continue to use hybrid and remote work options where appropriate to further decrease daily traffic coming up the Hill. Presently there are roughly 3500 LANL staff members in hybrid or remote work status.
“Hybrid work status is the dominant category and many of those folks are now using our telework hubs in Los Alamos and Santa Fe and thus avoiding having to come behind the fence,” Wyka said. “I am comfortable that we have a good set of ideas to tackle our transportation challenges going forward”.
He noted that he has the same confidence when it comes to regional housing.
“The Laboratory put out the demand signal over four years ago that housing was going to be needed and I want to thank the Council for heeding that call,” Wyka said. “The amount of infill within the County is truly impressive and in talking with Dr. Mason, the Laboratory will continue to meet with all interested housing developers to provide them with their budget and hiring projections”.
Wyka said he is committed to continuing to work with the County to find mutually agreeable conditions upon which to convey Rendija Canyon and other tracts deemed suitable for transfer. He noted that there had been a productive meeting on the status of land conveyance and transfer in February with a follow up meeting on Rendija Canyon earlier in March.
“I recognize the County’s desire to receive more land from NNSA to build housing. Unfortunately, we do not have any that is free of possible environmental challenges, Native American cultural sites or is within our programmatic buffer zones,” he said. “Even with this reality, I believe it is important that we examine our land use needs regularly and communicate our decisions to you. You have my commitment to continue to work with you and your staff on this issue”.
Wyka also delved into the Electrical Power Capacity Upgrade (EPCU) project which will upgrade the electrical power supply system for LANL and the County. He said LANL requires a reliable and redundant electrical supply to support mission programs and other activities conducted at the LANL facilities.
“Existing transmission lines that serve LANL and Los Alamos County will reach capacity by 2026 and DOE/NNSA will not have the electrical power supply to meet mission requirements without the upgrade.
After 2026, demand will consistently exceed the current import limit, which will cause operational constraint on mission work at LANL,” Wyka said. “Increased power is needed for the enduring mission, including tests and experiments for Los Alamos Neutron Science Center, supercomputing, and others.”
The EPCU scope involves a new transmission line with upgrades to LANL’s internal distribution system. Wyka said the project is progressing and that NNSA is pleased with the progress being made since route alterations were made because of a request from local Pueblo officials. A draft Environmental Assessment for the project is expected to go out for comment this Spring.
Wyka discussed the SWEIS that the NNSA Administrator determined in December 2021 was appropriate for the assessment of the impacts of future operations at LANL.
“As with prior SWEIS updates, the purpose of this new SWEIS is to analyze the environmental impacts of potential new or expanded future operational activities and programs that have not been previously analyzed via the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process,” he said.
NNSA last performed a full LANL SWEIS in 2008, and prior to that in 1999. Wyka said that before doing outreach to the public and other stakeholders on the Notice of Intent (NOI), NNSA sent a letter to the County in February 2022 about the SWEIS and the upcoming engagement opportunities for involvement. The NOI kicked off the public scoping period and the comment period ended on October 18, Wyka said. Currently the SWEIS is being drafted using input received from the scoping comment period and a draft is expected this fall.
“We plan to offer opportunities for briefings or other engagements to review and discuss the draft SWEIS with you. We look forward to hearing your ideas and sharing more information about the SWEIS and opportunities for engagement soon,” Wyka said.
Like everyone else,NNSA is hoping that heading into spring and summer, there will be more rain and snow to help lessen the wildfire risk.
“The Council should be aware that we have continued our mitigation activities over the winter, and we are planning to start hand thinning some of the canyons when weather permits,” Wyka said. “I am very pleased that we have such a solid bond with the County in this area and I hope all we do is train through the summer months.”
Lastly, Wyka addressed recent concerns about increased reporting requirements related to security clearances.
“The federal government is constantly reexamining what information they want clearance holders to self-report for risk analysis purposes.
Most of the recent updates were clarifications of the existing requirements. Things like regular speeding tickets, County code violations, parking tickets and the like will not impact a person’s clearance,” he said. “Because we have such a strong self-reporting culture I was not surprised at the level of questions, but I want to assure everyone that minor infractions will not be a big deal.”