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LA, local leaders meet with D.C. officials

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Group seeks answers about contract, clean- up funds

By Tris DeRoma

Government officials from Los Alamos and regional leaders are in Washington, D.C. this week to meet with congressional lawmakers to voice their concerns about the National Nuclear Safety Administration’s draft request for proposals for the next management and operations contract for the Los Alamos National Laboratory. 

“Our community has had some real challenges in communicating our interests, and just meeting and communicating with the potential bidders,” said Andrea Romero, the executive director of the Regional Coalition of LANL Communities.

Two weeks ago, The National Nuclear Security Administration, the government agency overseeing the bidding process, allowed Romero a 24-hour notice to put together a meeting between potential contractors and regional leaders. 

The contractors visited Los Alamos to tour the lab Aug. 24. 

Though the meeting was successful in helping regional and county representatives get their point across about how important the lab’s financial support to the community was, only two potential contractors showed up to the meeting.  

The group has already met with New Mexico’s congressional delegation about making sure one of the key requirements to winning the contract will be a contractor’s community commitment plan. The plan would detail how much financial and altruistic commitment the lab would have with non-profit organizations and local government.  

One new item of concern about the contract is that the transition to a new contract may be delayed while a congressional study about lab management is completed.

“It may delay the contract from moving along,” Los Alamos County Council Rick Reiss told the Monitor Tuesday. 

One of the components the study is considering is what is the best management structure for a lab, one that’s managed by a non-profit organization, or one that’s managed by a for-profit company. 

“There was an implication in there that it needed to be done before they awarded the contract,” Reiss said. “It was news to us.” 

The group also talked to the delegation about boosting the lab’s cleanup budget for legacy waste needs and priorities for the region. For fiscal year 2018, the cleanup budget will be somewhere between $191 million and $217 million. 

“We are hoping that the Energy and Water Committee on the house side would be willing to appropriate funding at the necessary levels, so we can get the work done to hit critical milestones,” Romero said. 

Romero also said that their proposal was well received by New Mexico’s congressional delegation, and that the Senate had already decided to fund clean-up costs at that level for next year. 

“We were happy to see that,” Romero said. 

The Senate and House committees are now in conference, reportedly debating on an amount between $191 million and $217 million. 

According to Reiss, some of the money they requested for the lab will include money to clean up Tech Area 21, located on DP Road. The site, was where the lab processed Tritium, a radioactive isotope of hydrogen that was used in the manufacture of nuclear weapons. 

This year, the group of county and regional officials decided to meet with the Department of Energy officials to explain its agenda, rather than the NNSA, since the leadership at NNSA may soon change. They also talked to the DOE about concerns over the recent safety lapses at the lab that triggered the new contract bid.

“There has been a great commitment from a variety of parties in the Senate and the House Armed Services Committee to improving the lab’s performance through policy initiatives and so, we’re hopeful that going forward we can craft the right sort of relationships between communities and the oncoming bidder,” Romero said.

 

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Regional Coalition of LANL Communities on the Washington, D.C. trip include San Ildefonso Pueblo Governor James Mountain, Española Mayor Alice Lucero, Santa Fe Mayor Javier Gonzales and Los Alamos County Manager Harry Burgess.