Airport Basin OK'd for lift off

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By Carol A. Clark

An amendment to Los Alamos County’s Airport Basin services agreement with Hensel Phelps Construction New Mexico, LLC was approved unanimously by County Council Tuesday evening. The amendment authorizes Hensel Phelps to move forward with the site work associated with the project.

Prior to the vote, Public Works Director Kyle Zimmerman presented council with an executive summary, comparison spreadsheet, budget and cost comparisons for the $14 million Guaranteed Maximum Price (GMP).

“One of the ways we can keep the process going is to start the site work,” Zimmerman said, adding that projects of this magnitude are impacted by commodity fluctuations and other external factors.

Councilor Jim West thanked Zimmerman and Project Manager David Apple for keeping council in the loop.

“You’ve done a good job of keeping us informed,” West said. “No one likes surprises and we don’t like surprises. We appreciate being informed when things change and the reasons why they need to change.”

Business leader Rick Reiss praised the “promising progress” the county and other developers are making in Los Alamos. “This is a difficult time, one where it appears risky to invest in our community,” he said. “The county can, and is in many respects ‘jump starting’ our local economy with its many projects.”

Reiss also brought up a lack of local subcontractors being utilized on the project by Hensel Phelps.

“What is done is done on this project and this phase of the Airport Basin Site,” he said. “However, in the future, I encourage you to include in your considerations of projects the contract terms or overall impact of your contractor selection, or site selection, and how the county’s investment will be leveraged by and for local investment.”

Reiss brought up the fact that local contractors provide more than a low bid when used by the county. The local owners and employees take their proceeds from the winning bid, Reiss said, and reinvest those monies back into Los Alamos and northern New Mexico.

“The county gets a “bonus” when a local contractor wins a competitive bid,” he said.

Counclior Fran Berting questioned whether the contract gives the contractor complete control over subcontractors and was told yes by Zimmerman.

“I understand that local contractors are getting phased out of the contract,” Berting said. “We can’t do anything about it now but I think we should take this as a ‘lessons learned’ and write local subcontractors into future contracts.”

Prior to voting to approve the amendment authorizing Hensel Phelps to move forward with site work, Councilor Nona Bowman asked a company representative, “So you think we’re going to stay on budget then?”

“Yes, ma’am,” he said.

As work begins, trouble seems to be brewing with the placement of a fueling station on the site. Attorney William Arland, III, told council the tanks are too close to his client’s building. The station is set to house two above-ground tanks containing 8,000 gallons of Class 1 fuel each with another 12,000-gallon tank planned.

A fire safety engineer has been hired to assess the situation, Arland said.

“There’s people working in there and the threat to human life is not worth it,” he said.

Zimmerman explained that the tanks are double walled and said an alarm is triggered if the inside wall springs a leak. He also told council that as a good neighbor effort, the county switched the original location of the fueling station with a wash bay.

“The tanks were about 40 feet and now they’re about 100 feet (away from the neighboring building),” Zimmerman said.

County Attorney Mary McInerny told council that according to the state fire marshal, the county is in compliance with the fire code.

Arland met with an attorney for the county on June 11 to discuss his client’s issues. He said he hadn’t heard about the state fire marshal’s determination and added, “Communication is part of the problem.”

Arland also told council his clients are concerned about an alleged property encroachment and a water easement extension.