Manhattan Project park moves one step closer

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Congress> Senate and House versions differ in approach

By Arin McKenna

The Manhattan Project Historical Park (MPHP) moved one step closer to becoming a reality last week when the House Natural Resources Committee approved H.R. 1208 by unanimous consent.

Rep. Ben Ray Lujan (D-N.M.) joined Natural Resources Chairman Doc Hastings and Rep. Chuck Fleischmann in reintroducing the bill, which had failed to achieve the two thirds majority necessary for passage in the previous congress.

Councilor Frances Berting testified before the committee as Los Alamos County’s representative. Mayor Tom Beehan from Oakridge, Tenn., and Mayor Steve Young from Kennewick, Wash., also testified. The three provided a united front as the board of the Energy Communities Alliance, of which Beehan is president, Young is secretary and Berting is treasurer. A National Park Service representative provided testimony as well.

Berting gave a three-minute presentation before the committee and submitted a lengthier written statement. She stressed the historical significance of the Manhattan Project, the National Park Service’s ability to tell all sides of the story and the economic impact on Manhattan Project Park communities.

Berting also stressed her support for a section of the bill that allows the Department of Interior and the Department of Energy to accept monetary or service donations for the park.

However, the bill does not go as far as the Senate version, which also allows the park service to purchase land from willing sellers. This could be an important element in acquiring properties such as the houses along Bathtub Row, which may be too valuable for people to donate.

Hastings has been reluctant to approve either the Senate provision or a compromise that would limit the amount of land the National Park Service could purchase, but there has been some indication that the House bill will reconcile with the Senate version when it comes to compromise.

The bill now goes to markup, during which alterations may be made. It is expected to come before the full House for a vote sometime in June, where it is expected to pass. Hastings is hoping to introduce it as a standalone bill, but it may be introduced as part of a package with several other land use bills.

The Senate bill was held up in committee last year by Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who refused to let many bills move forward until a bill she had introduced passed the committee. Berting reported that it appears a compromise has been reached on Murkowski’s bill so things can move forward. There is no timeline as of yet for the MPHP bill’s passage through the Senate.

“There’s sufficient bipartisan support in both houses that they really do think it will pass,” Berting said. “Several of the senators have said, we will pass this bill.”

Berting also attended ECA meetings with representatives from the House and Senate. The MPHP was the main topic of discussion in the House meeting. Nothing noteworthy was discussed in the Senate meeting.

Berting and Deputy County Administrator Brian Bosshardt were also in Washington representing Los Alamos at the Energy Communities Alliance New Leadership Peer Exchange.

Bosshardt was part of a group that met with staff from the Department of Energy’s Office of Environmental Management to talk about reuse of DOE lands.

Los Alamos has an advantage over other DOE communities in that Sen. Pete Domenici arranged for land transfers to local communities at no cost. DOE is asking other ECA communities to pay for the land. ECA representatives are advocating for less than fair market value for the lands.

“A lot of the other communities were very adamant about the fact that there’s a stigma attached to the property because of the work that occurred over the years, and is it truly clean,” Bosshardt said.

“Based on the work that we’re doing here in Los Alamos and how closely we all work together with NMED (New Mexico Environment Department), I think we’re safe in that regard here. I think that’s probably true across the country, but those not involved with it on a day-to-day basis are going to have those questions.”

Sequestration and the continuing resolution were the main topics of discussion during the ECA’s annual New Leadership Peer Exchange.

A representative for the Office of Nuclear Energy also reported on Pres. Barack Obama’s interest in looking at small modular nuclear reactors and that he is giving serious consideration to a blue ribbon commission’s recommendation on long-term storage of nuclear waste.

“That’s encouraging, although the money isn’t flowing,” Berting said.

“The alliance, on a broader level, is a lot like what we’re doing here locally with the Regional Coalition. It’s all the DOE communities coming together to speak together when we talk to DOE. The Hanford communities in Washington have a similar coalition, so I get to sit down and speak with their executive director and learn about some of the things they’re focusing on,” Bosshardt said. “So it’s good to be able to interact with peers. Hence the name ‘peer exchange.’”