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‘Science complex’ raises funding, compliance questions

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‘Science complex’ raises funding, compliance questions
Los Alamos Monitor
ROGER SNODGRASS
June 23, 2006

Los Alamos National Laboratory is turning to the U.S. Postal Service for help in arranging third-party financing for a planned new science complex on Two-Mile Mesa, near the main administrative area.

According to an official planning document, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by Nuke Watch New Mexico, the laboratory signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the USPS in February 2004 to assist in the project.

In its announcement, Nuke Watch charged that the funding scheme was a “back-door” gimmick that sidestepped the congressional appropriation process for a major project.

“There has never been any kind of attempt to hide any part of this complex idea,” laboratory spokesperson Kevin Roark said Thursday. “We’ve been talking about this lease-back idea for a long time.”

Roark contradicted the FY06 Ten-Year Site Plan on one point. “The most current information I have is that the MOU has not been signed,” he said. “We’re still in negotiations with the post office.”

A story in the Monitor from June 2004 reported plans to build the 400,000-square-foot complex to house some 1,300 scientists and other
employees, “using a novel third-party financing initiative.”

The involvement of the postal service, not specified at the time, is considered a straightforward matter from the lab’s perspective.

“The post office happens to be an expert in third party financing. They do this all the time,” Roark said.

Nuke Watch raised another question about the project’s compliance with the federal requirements for environmental impact assessments, saying the group could find no indication that the project has been properly analyzed.

“The lab needs to be constantly reminded of its legal obligations to follow the letter and spirit of the National Environmental Protection Act,” said Coghlan, director of the public interest organization based in Santa Fe.

Nuke Watch New Mexico has been particularly watchful about the environmental impacts of new buildings at the laboratory. A California federal suit in which they participated against a plan to operate Biosafety laboratories at Lawrence Livermore and Los Alamos National laboratories, caused significant delays at both sites.

The Los Alamos BSL-3 remains unoccupied after more than two years, because of the litigation and NNSA’s subsequent decision that a separate environmental impact analysis was needed.

In response to Nuke Watch’s objection about an environmental process for the science complex, Roark corrected an error reported earlier, that the project had been included in a “2004 Site-wide environmental impact statement.”

Asked again Thursday about the matter, he said it would be included in a forthcoming 2006 site-wide impact statement.

Last year, under pressure from local environmental groups, the federal managers of the laboratory changed direction on a required environmental review and decided to prepare a new site-wide environmental statement, rather than a supplement, as they proposed at first.

The last SWEIS was issued in January 1999.

The lab is currently processing the new site-wide environmental impact review. A draft assessment is expected to be released in the near future.

In the LANL site plan, one classified building and one unclassified building were envisioned for the Los Alamos Science Complex along with ample parking.

The buildings were to provide workspace for radiological facilities, bioscience, the theoretical division, earth and environmental sciences, the institute for geophysics and planetary physics, the center for non-linear studies, and other piece of the directorate, according to information provided at that time.

The buildings projected in the site plan last September were intended for occupation by the former Strategic Science division, but under
reorganization by the new management, Los Alamos National Security LLC, the organization has been recast with slightly different components as the principal directorate of Science, Technology and Engineering.

Coghlan said Nuke Watch has been trying to obtain the two most recent versions of the laboratory’s ten-year plan through FOIA since December 23, 2004.

The documents received were marked “Official Use Only” and “May be exempt from public release under the Freedom of Information Act,” as “privileged information.”

“We got a 40 percent redacted version in November 2005,” he said. “We subsequently filed an appeal to the DOE office of hearings and appeals.”

That appeal was ruled non-existent.

“In a twist,” Coghlan said, “rather than denying it, they said your appeal doesn’t exist because the Albuquerque office gave you what they thought you wanted.”

Nuke Watch then began litigation to obtain the material, and NNSA released unredacted versions on June 19.

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