Council wants more information

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By Katy Korkos

The West Jemez Bypass project appeared to be the more controversial of the two agenda items discussed by councilors Tuesday night, as more than half of the public left after a vote where council approved a motion 5-to-2. Councilors Robert Gibson and Jim Hall voted against the motion offered by councilor Fran Berting to look at options for locating a bypass near the security perimeter gates. Berting’s motion asked staff to optimize the placement of a West Jemez Road; at the same time, staff was asked to examine a gas pipeline road for a potential better placement, and to obtain more design and cost information on making West Road safer. The passing of the motion in no way guaranteed the bypass will be built at all; in fact, canceling the project altogether is still a possibility.The basis for the motion came from a presentation by Public Works Director Kyle Zimmerman and project manager Audoro Espinoza, who went over the 90-percent design as currently proposed, and also reviewed some of the concerns faced by the project. The project was initiated after a security perimeter project installed gates on Jemez Road to control access to the laboratory, and the county sued NNSA/DOE for unimpeded access.“The settlement agreement was signed off in 2006,” Espinoza said. “To date, LANL (Los Alamos National Laboratory) has completed its portion of the road.” Espinoza said that a memorandum of understanding with LANL would allow the lab’s portion of the road to be opened for access to Ski Hill Road before the ski area opens for business Friday. Espinoza explained that possibly contaminated sites along the route of the bypass might be responsible for delays in the original time-line proposed for construction. The cleanup schedule for potentially contaminated sites along the proposed routes, the amount of landfill that would have to be brought in over two construction seasons to bring the road along the edge of Los Alamos Canyon and the fact that $6 million in promised funding from the state had not come through were listed as drawbacks to the building of a West Jemez Bypass Road.“One hundred thousand cubic yards of material would have to be brought in,” Zimmerman said.“With that in mind and with comments from the public, the county has performed a re-evaluation of West Road,” Espinoza said. He went on to list the pros and cons of using West Road, which goes down into Los Alamos Canyon past the ice rink.Pros included encouraging traffic to travel into town, smaller environmental impact to the canyon, traffic impacts during the building of an intersection would be lessened and the costs would be comparable to building a bypass road.Cons included the fact that steep grades and north facing slopes might make for hazardous driving in winter months, that safety of pedestrians near the ice rink would require traffic calming measures and that the Diamond Drive/Fairway intersection does not have good geometry.The design for the West Jemez Bypass Road is at the 90-percent phase, and has already cost the county $675,874 in design fees. Agenda documents provided to council state, “The current estimate of probable construction cost based on the 90-percent submittal is $10,962,427 for the roadway and $3,041,858 for the intersection, for a project total of $14,004,285.”Public comment was divided, with some suggesting that a new bypass at a projected cost of $14 million is not necessary. Former councilor Michael Wismer, who served on council at the time the settlement agreement with DOE was reached, said that he had changed his mind about the benefits of building a bypass road, based on several events.“Access for the Security Perimeter Project for non-employees has been smooth,” Wismer said. “The connector road from Camp May Road to West Road has been completed and an effective bypass has been created.” Wismer went on to say that a “chilling effect” on the Ski Hill had not materialized, and “the governor did not fund half” of the project.“Everybody can go through the checkpoints,” Jody Benson said. “It seems to me that spending $14 million ripping up our canyon is a real waste of our county’s money.”“I don’t think we need a third road to get to the same place,” Andrea Krohn said.George Lawrence, who serves as president of the Ski Club, but who spoke as a private citizen, was in favor of building a new bypass road. “The purpose (of a bypass road) is to open a safe, direct transportation link to the west,” Lawrence said. “Not just for the ski area, but for the Jemez, the Caldera and Bandelier. “The gates are not an attractive entry to our county.”In voting against the motion, Hall said, “I don’t agree with spending a lot of money looking at West Road. It adds time, it adds uncertainty, it adds maintenance costs, it doesn’t reduce noise. That’s not the way I want to spend the county’s money.”  Marathon session

Los Alamos County Council squeezed the equivalent of two meetings into one marathon session Tuesday, in the last council meeting of 2007. A full complement of councilors and more than 25 members of the public turned out to hear a discussion and update on the West Jemez Bypass project, which was followed by an update on space requirements for the police department in a new Judicial/Police Jail Complex, to be built on the site of the current police department. Coverage of the Judicial/Police Jail Complex will continue in Thursday’s Monitor.