Council Hears From NNSA On Land Transfers, Feral Cattle And More


Ted Wyka and staff from the Department of Energy National Nuclear Security Administration’s Los Alamos Field Office met with Los Alamos Council during a recent work session in White Rock. Following Field Office Manager Wyka’s presentation, he and members of his staff dug a little deeper into issues of particular interest to Los Alamos such as land transfer, feral cattle, future access to Los Alamos Canyon and the LANL Site-Wide Environmental Impact Statement.

Stephanie Stringer, NNSA Asst. Manager for Mission, Assurance & Infrastructure, briefed Council on the land transfer issue. She explained that in 1943 the War Department acquired about 50,000 acres and additional acres were acquired later that decade.

“In 1949, the County of Los Alamos established land remained under federal control. In 1955, the Atomic Energy Community Act required government to support communities until they were self-sufficient. The Atomic Energy Commission leased and disposed of land in the late 1950s to the late 1960s. In 1967, the AEC began transferring ownership to the County for public use. Land also was transferred to the U.S. Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management and the National Park Service. Finally in 1997, Congress passed Public Law 105-119 directing the Department of Energy to convey excess land to the County and to transfer it to the Secretary of the Interior in trust for the Pueblo de San Ildefonso,” Stringer said.

In summary, she said the Department of Energy had transferred or conveyed about 65 percent of the land it once owned and continues to prepare land for conveyance to Los Alamo Alamos County as part of Public Law 105-119, but currently there is no additional land outside of the land identified under PL 105 available for conveyance.

“We’re currently working with the County on Rendija Canyon to determine the planned use for the area. We’re supporting that effort and understanding the approach and working with staff to move that along,” Stringer said.

She said Area A16, also known as Technical Area (TA) 21 is currently conducting remediation efforts and NNSA is waiting for completion before discussing this tract. Required compliance activities are underway for A18-2 and C2 as well as C4 – the “Intersection Project. Stringer said NNSA will continue with conveyance activities upon completion.

“There’s another process under 10 CFR 770 whereby there can be requests to transfer land. We’ve had previous requests for TA-70, TA-71 and TA-36. We conducted a field visit with County personnel and others in October of last year to familiarize everyone with the landscape and point out locations of LANL to figure out where activities are going on and understand that we haven’t identified any additional lands that are suitable for conveyance at this time,” she said.

Wyka noted because of the growing mission, especially with high explosives work being carried out, the area the County had inquired about is just too close to that work for any of it to be transferred. He confirmed that NNSA is working with County Manager Steve Lynne on an area in Rendija Canyon.

Councilor Randall Ryti asked about the feral cattle issue, noting that there is a joint effort with DOE and the County. He said he knows there are some cattle in some fairly remote areas and asked Wyka if there is a plan to get some wranglers in to be able to capture some of those cows so that they aren’t on the highway. Ryti mentioned that there were two recent cattle-related accidents and that there was a fatal accident many years before.

Wyka said the feral cattle issue is also a concern for NNSA as a potential major safety hazard. He said last year he procured the services of a wrangler and was able to get a lot of the cattle removed, especially those that were by the intersection and became a road hazard. 

“We are still working on the issue. I think the count is about 40 of them in the area. We need to keep tabs on them and establish a plan to control them. We work collaboratively with the County especially for a quick response. We collaborate with the fire department and the police department to establish where there are safety concerns. The plan is to reduce the herd either by wrangling services or eliminating them,” Wyka said.

Kristen Dors, NNSA’s NEPA Compliance Officer said she is the team lead off Team Feral Cattle and that NNSA is on the hook to write a plan. She said NNSA is coordinating with the County’s Eric Peterson, the wrangler, Triad and Bandelier National Monument because they’ve done a good job of limiting access along the river and re-growing the habitat down there for willow flycatcher.

“We’re also taking a much more holistic approach to the feral cattle and trying to figure out how to limit access. A lot of the feral cattle that are along the roads that you guys see and that are getting hit by cars are the ones coming over from the Forest Service property through Rendija Canyon. They park it in the cemetery and all kinds of places and then wander down. So we’re talking with the Forest Service folks and trying to figure out how to limit access as they come from the north down through the County and onto the road”.  

Team Feral Cattle was actually established before the COVID pandemic and is now being revived. It will also include the Pueblo de San Ildefonso. Dors said they are excited to get a handle on the issue because the most recent accident was terrible.

Councilor Ryti asked if there is any wildfire mitigation work being done in Los Alamos Canyon, noting that there is community concern about houses and businesses close to the fence line on the top side of the canyon.

“That would be one scenario where fire could come down and get into Los Alamos proper,” Ryti said.

Dors responded that hand-thinning is being done in the canyon, especially for invasive species down by the ice rink and under the bridge. She said one of the issues with doing any of the larger areas that go up the side into the edge of the neighborhood is the endangered species.

“There is the Jemez Mountain salamander habitat there and it’s limiting what they’re doing but they do have a plan and we are going to incorporate more work in the canyons, especially Los Alamos Canyon into the new Site-Wide Environmental Impact Statement. Those kinds of additional wildfire mitigation activities that weren’t covered in the Forest Health & Wildland Fire Management Environmental Assessment will be in new SWEIS. Meanwhile they are doing some work up along West Road around the curve and then down into the canyon,” she said.

Dors noted that the north-facing sides of some of the Canyons are salamander habitat so it is hard to get to the trees to cut them down. She said clearing is being done particularly around utility lines and firing sites.  

Wyka said the collaboration between the M&O Triad, federal components – the BLM, the Forest Service and the County is impressive.

“We prepared for the Cerro Pelado Fire three years before it happened, and the success of the cleanup activities  the standoff distances, the masticating along the roads and the clearing and thinning of the forests in a lot of areas is what really helped in this case and that hasn’t stopped. We’ll be continuing that partnership and that fire mitigation work as well,” Wyka said.

Ryti noted that there are some environmental assessments going on in Los Alamos Canyon and asked if there was any update in terms of potential use of that area for recreation.

“That’s something we discussed I think about four years ago with one of your predecessors – the potential for the County to have a special use permit or something like that in Los Alamos Canyon,” he said.

Dors acknowledged that in the past there had been talk of a special use permit but that there is current mission work going on there in what is referred to as “the tunnel” as well as demolition and cleanup. She said Global Security and other folks are doing work down there.

There had been talk of a potential tour opportunity prior to COVID related to the Manhattan Project, Dors said.

“A lot of people walk down there with their dogs or whatever but it’s closed. You’re not supposed to do that but having some sort of controlled access was something we did discuss in the past and I don’t think we’re opposed to it; it’s just COVID kind of killed that idea for a while. I don’t know if you’re interested in revisiting it,” she said.

Ryti said he wasn’t speaking for the Council but I thought Council was probably very interested to hear that response and that maybe there’s an opportunity for some further discussion at NNSA’s regular meetings with the County Manager.

Ryti mentioned that Council would be discussing the transit system later in the meeting.  Wyka said NNSA is looking at proposals for long-distance bussing up Pajarito and even expanding it beyond there to eliminate the traffic in Los Alamos.

“We’re also working with the Pueblos on possible parking garages and shuttling mass transit systems up here to reduce the burden,” Wyka said.

Council Chair Denise Derkacs asked about Wyka’s prior discussion of increasing the supply capacity of the electric power grid and doing upgrades to LANL’s internal distribution system.

“I’m going to assume you’re coordinating all this with our Department of Public Utilities,” she said.

Wyka responded that NNSA is working this with the Forest Service, the BLM and with all the Pueblos.

“I know that Steve Lynne is working on the project as well with those folks. There are different alternatives that we’re looking at and this is being handled under an environmental assessment where it’s actually going to be publically provided for comment, where we’re going to have to include those in the project planning,” Wyka said.

Derkacs said she understands there are also discussions underway about a solar panel array and Dors said it will be on 50 acres of land in TA-16, which is along the back road towards Bandelier National Monument. 

“It’s what we call the borrow pit, so it’s pretty flat and we’re looking at a 10 megawatt solar array there. We have been talking with and cooperating on something with the County on that along with Triad. That piece of the power puzzle is a little piece of solar as well. We’ve looked at multiple other places to put solar arrays across the site and that was the best bet – with the least amount of everything else in the way,” Dors said.

Derkacs asked if there is also room there for battery storage. Dors said battery storage is interesting and that one of the other projects that they are looking at for the DAHRT facility is a battery storage project.

“That’s the first time I had heard of it and so that’s coming up more and more. I think 10 megawatts will go like that so I’m not sure we need a lot of battery storage for that one. Other facilities are looking at types of battery storage on site,” Dors said.

Ted noted that Dors coming up to answer these types of questions is making a really powerful statement.

“Kristen actually handles our NEPA documentation – National Environmental Policy Act – so that’s looking at everything in the future. So this is all going to be laid out in the SWEIS, which is 15 years in the future, at all different missions and everything we’re going to do will be put out for public comment. This is a very transparent process. Kristen will be in charge of accepting and communicating on the comments and making adjustments to the alternatives. But this is actually advanced planning 15 years in the future, which is a very transparent process for the County as well as all the other surrounding communities,” Wyka said.

Dors noted that the County submitted 9-10 pages of comments concerning the scoping period for the SWEIS notice of intent, which were appreciated.

“Imagine on a 12-page notice of intent to have 10 pages of comments for the actual SWEIS  – that’s a lot of comments but we’re happy to come back and talk to you about it when we get closer, especially the areas you’re interested in such as  transit, wildfire and the protection of those buffers. We’ll be happy to talk to you about what’s in the draft,” she said.