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Lab wastes at issue in hearing

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By Roger Snodgrass

SANTA FE – Officials of the city and county of Santa Fe and the private Las Campanas development partnership took one side of an environmental dispute Monday night; critics of Los Alamos National Laboratory took another.The two groups presented divergent views at an Environmental Protection Agency hearing in Santa Fe about a new water discharge permit for the Buckman Direct Diversion Project.Rick Carpenter, senior water resources coordinator for the city, said the project, which has been in the works for 15 years, was “absolutely critical” for the city’s diversified water portfolio.The $171 million Buckman Direct Diversion Project takes water from the Rio Grande on the east side of the river three miles below the Otowi Bridge. According to the plan, a sediment removal facility will remove sand and other sediment from the water, before it is pumped to two water treatment facilities. After treatment the water would be distributed to customers in the city and county of Santa Fe and residents of Las Campanas.Under the plan, Carpenter said, the sediments that are removed would have to be trucked or returned to the river. But he argued that it was not safe or economical to transport sand-sized particles to the Caja del Rio landfill.Mike Sanderson, chief engineer at Los Campanas, noted that the diversion project would enable the development to build out to its capacity of 1,707 residences. He cited problems with noise, dust, fumes and safety of convoys through Las Campanas, along with fuel expenditure as reasons that the larger sediments should be returned to the river rather than hauled away.Opponents complained that the application for the permit had been prepared in April 2006, before new information about potential groundwater contamination from the laboratory had been documented.Joni Arends, executive director of Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety said the detection of plutonium in a channel upriver from the proposed diversion facility had not been sufficiently investigated.  She said the City of Santa Fe, the New Mexico Environment Department were just starting to put together a sampling plan with the Department of Energy and LANL for the area and warned that the large investment was premature considering the unresolved risks.“Our concern is public health,” she said in a telephone interview this morning. “The investigation of plutonium in the old river channel needs to proceed before any permits are issued.”She also noted that a “sentry well” constructed by the laboratory to monitor for pollution before it reaches the Buckman well area was one of the wells that had been compromised in its ability to detect contaminants because of the use of drilling fluids.EPA has already made a tentative determination to issue the permit, but will take public comments into account before making a final decision.