Department of Energy Environmental Management Senior Advisor William ‘Ike” White is interviewed by Los Alamos Reporter’s Maire O’Neill at Buffalo Thunder Resort during White’s recent visit to Los Alamos. Courtesy photo
DOE-EM Senior Advisor William ‘Ike’ White addresses attendees at the EM-LA quarterly community engagement during his July 19-20 visit to Los Alamos. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com
It was a busy few days in Los Alamos for William “Ike” White with several local engagements including a meeting with Pueblo de San Ildefonso tribal officials, a tour of the groundwater monitoring project in place for the legacy waste cleanup project, attending a Northern New Mexico Citizens Advisory board (CAB) meeting in Pojoaque, a tour of the Middle DP Road cleanup project in Los Alamos with County officials and EM-LA’s quarterly hybrid community engagement forum meeting at Fuller Lodge.
White also joined in the community celebration and viewing of the local premiere of “Oppenheimer” and was on an Oppenheimer Festival panel on “Los Alamos: History, Present and Future”. White met with the Los Alamos Reporter early Thursday morning to discuss the itinerary for his visit and respond to questions about EM-LA’s ramping up of public engagement opportunities throughout the region. He mentioned that when he visits Los Alamos it’s always nice to see he progress being made with the legacy waste cleanup program.
“We are close to having DP Road work wrapped up and packaged. It’s important that we finish the job we started,” White said. “Sometimes when you think you’re done, you’re not. As you’re cleaning up you get immersed in all that history of the program. Sometimes that history is well-documented but there are times when we run into things as we go through the cleanup program where we find pieces of the history that have been forgotten. The challenge with the cleanup program is that from the history perspective it’s often quite interesting.”
Asked how he rates the success of the public engagement here in New Mexico, particularly with regard to Los Alamos cleanup, and changes that have been made since he was last interviewed by the Reporter, White said there has been a really extraordinary emphasis on really ramping up EM-LA’s types of engagement across Northern New Mexico.
“We’re trying to educate people on how we’re looking at the cleanup program going forward and also trying to figure out ways to get really good input from all of the folks that might be affected by our program as we develop it,” White said. “I think we’ve been very successful at getting that feedback going.”
He said the real, desired outcome at the end of the day is to reach alignment of all the folks that are affected by the cleanup program – the community and the state regulators and what the program actually is which he said is still a work in progress.
“I’ve been very pleased by the level of engagement we’ve seen and by the feedback we’ve gotten from some of our folks who maybe did not have the same level of trust I wish they’d had in the program relative to transparency they’re seeing. I’ve been very pleased by the level of communication and feedback we’re getting from the folks we’re communicating with and we still want to make sure as we go forward that we get that program lined up so that everybody understands that even if it’s not exactly what everybody might have wanted, everybody is at least comfortable that it’s the right program and it’s going to be successful,” White said.
He told the Reporter he wants to make sure that those who do want to interact understand how much he appreciates it. He said he’s not sure there’s a right answer to how to get more people interested in coming to outreach meetings.
“I think people have a lot of priorities in their individual lives and things have been really difficult over the last three years for a lot of different reasons. Would I like to see more engagement? Of course I would really like to see more people interested in the program. In Los Alamos, many people if you look at their backgrounds they tend to be more aware of the details of what’s happened than your average general public. They have a comfort level of having operated in the system over a long period of time,” White said. “They know the motivations of all the players involved and they can see the information flow through at a peripheral level and have a level of confidence and they know how to find it if they’re curious. Is it reasonable for me to expect those people to spend inordinate amounts of time with the details that they feel comfortable with? Maybe that’s an unrealistic expectation.”
He recalled a previous conversation with the Reporter about how he always feels for the Department of Transportation. “The DOT always has public meetings with their road projects and you can be certain the only people who every show up to public meetings on a road project are people who are unhappy about it for some reason. There may be 95 percent of the people who are pleased that the road is finally being fixed and are willing to live with a couple of months of trouble in order to get the thing fixed but there are a few people who for whatever reason are unhappy that show up at public meetings. They’re necessary and they’re important to let folks bring those concerns to the DOT to see if maybe they can’t be managed or made better,” White said. “With the cleanup program, what you might find with Los Alamos is that it’s important to them, they want it done, they expect it to be done because the government has the responsibility to do that cleanup work, but they also have a certain level of confidence that it is in fact going to be done.”
Last year, EM-LA initiated the development of a Strategic Vision to enhance stakeholder engagement in the cleanup program and as White earlier explained, he wants that stakeholder engagement to align with the objectives of the cleanup program, regulatory interfaces, anticipated cleanup funding and desired outcomes. The goal is to develop a realistic and informed document prioritizing the remaining 50 percent of legacy waste cleanup.
Later on Thursday, White met with members of the Northern New Mexico Citizens Advisory Board (CAB) in Pojoaque. He answered questions and told them how much he appreciates all their service while providing the DOE-EM program with input and perspective on the impact the program has as well as the concerns and priorities they have for the program on behalf of the communities they live in.
“If we think about the construct of all the work we’re doing in the cleanup and why we’re doing what we’re doing, we clean up and we run the program on behalf of all the folks that will be impacted by it and it’s very important to us to be able to hear from the perspectives of folks who might be impacted. We obviously can’t go out and meet with tens of thousands of people on a regular basis and it really helps us to have a smaller forum of folks who are really interested and want to take the time to come up to speed on the various details associated with the program, have a conversation, have an exchange and provide valuable feedback to us on ways we can improve and do better,” White said. “It is a public service that all of you are engaged in. We can’t pay you, but we very much appreciate that you give your valuable time and I personally very much thank you for it.
NNMCAB chair Elena Fernandez, far right, asks DOE-EM Senior Advisor William ‘Ike’ White about expanding the CAB to include the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in Carlsbad. Also pictured are, from left, Brad Smith, President of N3B Los Alamos, Michael Mikolanis, EM-LA Field Office Manager, White, and S. ‘Ellie’ Gilbertson, Deputy Designated Federal Officer. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com
DOE-EM Senior Advisor William ‘Ike’ White, left, and Los Alamos resident Don Cobb prepare to answer questions during a panel discussion at SALA Event Center on ‘Los Alamos: History, Present and Future” as part of the Oppenheimer Festival. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com
Los Alamos County Intergovernmental Affairs Manager Danielle Duran, far right, introduces panelists for a discussion Thursday evening at SALA. Pictured are , from left, Nancy Bartlit, Wendy Behrman, William ‘Ike’ White and Don Cobb. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com
Members of the Northern New Mexico Citizens Advisory Board and staff gather with DOE-EM senior advisor William ‘Ike’ White during the CAB’s July meeting in Pojoaque. Courtesy photo