Public comment: Make us a national park

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Meetings evoke proud history

By Roger Snodgrass

Los Alamos residents embraced the idea of a Manhattan Project National Historical Park during a day that that included a series of public meetings related the National Park Service.

Although Los Alamos was recognized in a study by the federal agency as the one place that could provide a central location for telling the story of the making of the first atomic weapons, residents and elected officials urged the Park Service to include Hanford, Washington and Oak Ridge, Tenn., two other locations under consideration in the historical unit.

The park service assessment had concluded that the wider geographic area could not be efficiently administered at a reasonable cost.

A well-attended session during the middle part of the day raised issues that were ultimately addressed by a few modifications in a resolution that was unanimously passed at a county council meeting Tuesday night.

A question, raised by Councilor Nona Bowman, had to do with fears expressed by constituents about the risk of losing control over Fuller Lodge, Ashley Pond and the surrounding grounds if they become a part of a National Park Service Unit.

“Will we have use and control of this building and the land around it?” Bowman asked, noting the property’s valuable role as a location for lectures, concerts, weddings and anniversaries and “meetings like this.”

Bandelier National Monument Superintendent Jason Lott, who participated in the public discussion of the Manhattan Project Special Resource Study, said it was a valid question.

“Without a piece of legislation it is hard to know,” he said. “I think it would be in the best interest of the National Park Service to allow continued mixed use.”

Gretchen Ward, a member of the study team, said the best way to get the point across was to keep saying what the community wanted and expected.

“Say it early and say it often,” she said.

Cindy Kelly, president of the Atomic Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C. and long-time advocate of the project, said there were many precedents for thinking creatively about how to structure a park to tell a unique story about American military, industrial and scientific history.

“This is a wonderful day,” said Nancy Bartlit, World War II and Manhattan Project historian, who touched on some of the untold aspects of the story.

“We need to tell why the bomb was needed,” she said. “We need to get the story out. That’s our story.”

John Bartlit, on behalf of New Mexico Citizens for Clean Air and Water, made a  made a case for including information and interpretive material to tell the environmental history of nuclear weapons work from the 1940s on and that it be placed in the context of the nation’s environmental history from the same period.

“There is a sense of urgency for doing this,” said Petr Jandacek, a Los Alamos school teacher. “This is a place where the giants walked on earth. But the giants are dying. We’re going to lose that. Living history is…better than dead history.”

Local resident and environmental historian Gerry Strickfadden pointed out that the park service study made frequent mention of Department of Energy but that the National Nuclear Security Administration, which supervises the laboratory for the department was not mentioned, despite their official importance in deciding what happens on laboratory property.

Later in the meeting, councilor Robert Gibson elaborated on what he called the key question, having to do with ownership and at what point those ownership rights needed to be clarified.

At the county council meeting Tuesday night, county Community Services Director Stephani Johnson led a presentation on the Manahattan Project park study for a council resolution.

“Don’t get wrapped around the axle on that ownership (question),” she cautioned, but Bowman and Gibson, generally joined by other councilors continued the point by including stronger language in the resolution.

The resolution as amended passed 6-0, with Councilor Ralph Phelps absent.

“This has been a great day for the history of Los Alamos,” said Denny Erickson, President of the Los Alamos Historical Society in comments to the council.

The Park Service meetings in Los Alamos were the fourth in a series around the country on the Draft Special Resource Study/Environmental Assessment on Manhattan Project Sites. A complete copy of the study is available from http://parkplanning.nps.gov and more information is available from www.atomicheritage.org.