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More roadblocks to bypass

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By Katy Korkos

Tuesday’s meeting of the county council was a brief one, with only one item for discussion on the business agenda: the approval of an agreement with the New Mexico Department of Transportation for $2 million in funding associated with the West Jemez bypass project.Public Works Director Kyle Zimmerman introduced the item to council and the public by first explaining the history of the funding from the state.“When we first started, the governor had promised $6 million, then the legislature said $2 million,” Zimmerman said. He explained that the funds would be in the form of reimbursements after work has been completed, and that the funds would expire in 2011.  When the design was presented to the public at the 30-percent phase, the total cost for the project was estimated at $12 million.Zimmerman explained that engineers had encountered some problems in their design for the new route, including sites of potential contamination.Council Chair Jim West opened a public comment period early in the discussion by councilors, in acknowledgement of  several members of the public in the audience present in addition to county staff.Ten local residents sat in on Tuesday’s meeting, and three people spoke in opposition to the proposed route for the road, which would run from a new intersection on Diamond Drive, behind the Los Alamos Research Park, along Los Alamos Canyon and connect with a recently completed road built by DOE to end at the bottom of the ski hill road.“I’m opposed to the current route as proposed,” James Rickman said. Rickman, a former county councilor, spoke as a private citizen, not representative of any entity. “I encourage the council to not lock the doors to the future, and to consider a route that will be more considerate of taxpayer dollars and the environment.”Rickman said he preferred the use of West Road to bypass lab security gates, because “it doesn’t destroy green space or carve out trees and it preserves the assets of the research park. and it (West Road) could be easily altered.”Rickman said he believed using West Road to link the Jemez and Ski Hill rather than the new proposed route leading to West Jemez Road, would tend to channel people into Los Alamos, where they might shop or go to restaurants.Michael Dirosa also spoke against the plans for a new bypass road along the canyon, adding that he hoped “the council would take great pains to inform the public” about the design. Dirosa also said he hoped that approval of the agreement with the state for funding did not tie the county to the canyon rim design.“I echo the comments of the past two gentlemen,” Ann Verblaauw said, as she asked council to consider the public’s comments in making their decision.West thanked the public for attending the meeting, and asked Zimmerman whether he felt the agreement would preclude the use of the state funds to improve West Road. Zimmerman said he did not see a specific route designated in the agreement with the state.“We’ve always been concerned about the hairpin turns, the steep grade and the fact that it’s shaded in winter, but as we’ve hit roadblock after roadblock, I’m softening toward West Road now,” Zimmerman said. “Even the (proposed) bypass has 10 percent slopes, and they’re only 9.4 percent on West Road.”Councilor Jim Hall made the motion to approve the funding agreement.“Given that there may be further discussion about the alignment of the road, my suggestion is that we go ahead and sign this agreement,” Hall said. “The wisest choice is to go ahead and lock in the funding.”Council approved the agreement in a 5-to-0 vote, with councilors Bowman and Gibson absent.In other council business, two new members of the Youth Advisory board were approved to bring the board to its full complement of seven members. High school juniors Patrick Raichur and Kayla Arnone, were approved for two-year terms on the recently established board, and can begin serving immediately.The council’s next regular meeting will be at 7 p.m. Tuesday in Council Chambers at 475 20th St.