Stimulus ramps up in New Mexico

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By Roger Snodgrass

Former Gov. Toney Anaya led a panel of prominent officials in a sweeping overview of New Mexico’s stake in the $787 billion federal stimulus plan. A little more than a billion dollars have entered the state as of June 30 and a couple billion more are expected to arrive, according to tracking information compiled by the New Mexico Office of Recovery and Reinvestment, the state stimulus agency that Anaya heads.

The presentation on Los Alamos National Laboratory and the stimulus project was the most heavily attended of four “tour” options available Tuesday following a community leaders breakfast that featured laboratory status reports.

Both LANL Director Michael Anastasio and Los Alamos Site Office Deputy Manager Roger Snyder expressed cautious confidence that the appropriation process in Washington would return a stable result for at least another year.

“My sense is that we will all come out well in the end,” Anastasio said, referring to the National Nuclear Security Administration laboratories and sites, “but we have to wait and see.”

Snyder called attention to the diversification process at Los Alamos.

“As of this year, 56 percent of the lab’s focus is on weapons work,” he said, noting that the other 44 percent is now involved with non-proliferation, energy, science and miscellaneous “work for others.”

He said the stimulus represents “our chance to see the lab diversify more and also the chance to catch up” on some of the deferred cleanup and environmental work.

Bruce Shappell, deputy associate director for environmental programs, laid out the outlines of the lab’s $212 million stimulus project. The project, which is funded directly through the Department of Energy, aims to tear down and haul away contaminated waste from former plutonium processing facilities and a major hazardous waste disposal area along DP Road.

A first installment of $172 million has been made available for the project. Schapell said that preliminary work is under way under an existing small business contracts with Portage Environmental, a minority-owned business. There is also a contract with North Wind, a woman-owned, small, disadvantaged business. Both companies are located in Idaho Falls, Idaho.

Future opportunities will be available under a $100 million set-aside for 3-4 small businesses under a contract to be awarded in late July. A Request for Proposal will go out in July for a master contractor, with expectations that another couple of small businesses will be chosen for that, Shappell said.

The two main jobs are scheduled for completion in the second quarter of 2011.

According to the state stimulus tracking site, Los Alamos County with $176 million in recovery funds is second only to Eddy County with $241 million, both counties favored by their Department of Energy facilities and responsibilities for legacy nuclear waste. Next was the urban center of Bernalillo County that has about $110 million so far.

Anaya paid tribute to Los Alamos National Laboratory for its “tremendous contribution to the state,” including the lab’s assistance in helping write one of the state’s major grants for a green electrical grid.

“This is an opportunity to change the future of New Mexico, shaping and reshaping budgets for year to come,” he said.

Anaya spoke in tandem with Deputy Cabinet Minister Dona Cook, distinguishing between the direct allocations and awards and another pool of funds available nationwide available through competitive grants and incentive programs. The direct allocations are beginning to stream into school districts, backlogged highway construction, and health and workforce services. New listings and deadlines for the grants are coming along almost daily.

“There are a lot of ‘I’s to dot and a lot of ‘T’s to cross,” said Cook.

On the whole, she said, the system was not unreasonable for ensuring fairness and meeting strict legal requirements. “The last thing we would want to see is a federal audit that would take some of it back,” she said.

Tom Bowles, former chief scientist at LANL, now on loan as Governor Richardson’s science advisor, discussed efforts to capture as much of that competitive money as possible.

New Mexico is making a strong bid for pre-eminence in the area of new grid technology coupled with efficient and renewable energy, he said. The effort involves a statewide collaboration with the two nuclear laboratories, utilities companies, universities, businesses and environmental groups.

“We’re the only state partnering with a foreign country,” he said, referring to the involvement of Japanese investors in the package.

Carolyn Zerkle, who heads the stimulus project at the lab, drilled into the process by which the lab is evaluating and coordinating appropriate responses to grant opportunities, particularly in the $45 billion energy-related piece of the pie.

“This is an opportunity of a lifetime,” she said. “And it’s only going to come here once.”

Other contingents of community leaders toured the Metropolis Supercomputing Center where the world’s fastest supercomputer, the Roadrunner is located, or visited a diverse group of researchers working on “Building a New Energy Economy.” Fore more information, visit www.recovery.state.nm.us, www.lanl.gov/stimulus_communication_         center/ or www.recovery.gov/.