Bombs away: County accepts free bomb truck

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By Roger Snodgrass

It’s one thing not to look a gift horse in the mouth, but what about a free bomb truck? The Los Alamos County Council could not resist the temptation Tuesday night.A few minutes into the meeting, Councilor Fran Berting asked that the item be removed from the consent agenda for a full discussion of the matter, and a full discussion it was.Los Alamos Police Chief Wayne Torpy said he was always in the position of coming before the council to ask for something the department hoped would never be needed.“As with the gun I’ve carried in this holster on my hip for 30 years,” he said, “you don’t want to go home and get it when you need it.” The Bomb Response Vehicle will cost $203,150, and it won’t cost the county anything but future maintenance, Torpy said.  The funds for purchase came as a state grant from the Department of Homeland Security in 2004. The police chief added that the project had been delayed for a couple of years because of reorganization at the state level that eventually created a state Department of Homeland Security.During an extensive discussion with the councilors, Torpy ran into a hail of questions from the four councilors present. Council Chair Jim Hall, and Councilors Jim West and Nona Bowman were absent for the session.Councilor Michael Wheeler wanted to know about the relationship with the laboratory. “When there is a bomb threat at the lab, are police involved? Should we be involved?” he asked. Torpy’s answer reflected some of the complications of the relationship, in which the laboratory’s management decisions tend to reflect mission priorities. “We are responsible for any suspicious device in the county,” he said, although some matters the laboratory has handled itself. “If they make a mess, they’re responsible for it,” he said later in the discussion. “We don’t need a private corporation to hold the key to a vehicle we need to do the job of protecting public safety,” Council Vice-Chair Robert Gibson asked about why a second bomb truck was needed if the laboratory already had one.“Why can’t we get better cooperation, so we don’t have to have more than one?” he asked.“In a perfect world, I would say we could do that, but this isn’t a perfect world,” Torpy said. “The lab has it’s own mission, which is to protect its own assets.”The county has no certainty about the use of the lab’s truck if it were needed on the east side of the bridge, or if they county needed to take the truck to Albuquerque for three days to help out during an emergency, Torpy said.“They’ll cooperate when it is convenient for them to do so,” he said.Gibson suggested the problem could be solved with piece of paper and an equitable agreement.Berting’s questions were aimed at making sure the truck served a real purpose and that it wasn’t just “toys for boys,” she said. “That’s what it sounded like.”She agreed with Gibson that there were better uses for the money. “If we don’t take this truck money, some other town or county will,” Torpy said.Councilor Ken Milder spoke up for the lab, saying it might have perfectly good reasons for withholding use of its truck in a particular situation. Decoy events are known to distract responders before a primary target is hit, he said.The motion to accept the grant to buy the vehicle passed by a 4-to-0 vote.In other business, the council approved by a 4-to-0 vote a change that will reduce the size of the current Public Works Department, separating some functions into a newly created Capital Projects and Facilities Department.The measure is necessary, County Administrator Max Baker said, to handle the current load of large construction projects more effectively.

Editors Note: The council’s decision to approve a $1.5 million grant to the New Mexico Consortium in support of a grant application pending with the National Science Foundation will be the subject of a future article.