Bypassing Los Alamos
On Monday March 2nd, County Council will hold a special session to discuss the proposed Bypass Road (Los Alamos Community Building at Ashley Pond, 7pm).
A Walk-Through of the Bypass area will be held on Sunday,February 22nd, 2pm at the Research Park.
Please help by coming to the March 2nd meeting and expressing your opinion and emailing/calling Councilors and let them know you are against the Redundant Bypass. [Email Addresses are found at the end of this blog.]
Thursday, February 19, 2009
When the County decided to sue the DOE/NNSA on potential NEPA violation grounds, I was a big supporter of this effort, as I think most citizens were at the time. If anything, I thought the County should have gotten involved sooner. At the time, we had no idea what the new Lab security layout would be like. There was fear that it might be like Stalag 13, a nightmare for our community, with intimidating armed military, boarder crossing guard gates and intrusive mandatory vehicle inspections.
I believe that the County did the right thing by pursuing the suit and protecting our access to the Jemez Mountains. None of what I present here should be assumed to indicate that I believe the County made any mistake by perusing the Bypass settlement. It was necessary at the time, especially with the DOE/NNSA telling us so little about their plans.
But things have dramatically changed since that time. It's now clear that the security portals are no worse for the vast majority of travelers than a New Jersey Toll Booth Fast Pass entrance - you stop, wave and GO! We now have a good bypass road around the security portals with the FEMA paid for Ski Hill Bypass / West Road connection.
Right now, TODAY, everyone is pretty much getting where they need to go, without the need for yet another costly Bypass to get there. Dr. Evil's question is a question we should all be asking ourselves.
Manny Baca created a petition against the Bypass and I assisted by collecting the majority of the signatures (we collect nearly 70, you need only 5). We submitted the petition to the County and our petition was added to a recent Council Agenda. Before the Council meeting was held, Council members asked that we wait to present our petition presentation until a special meeting could be held. We agreed. That meeting will be on March 2nd, where I will present our petition presentation against the Bypass. These slides will make up most of that presentation.
[Note to readers: I will be adding new slides over the next few days, re-arranging slides and adding/changing exiting slides. Some slides may appear out of order, temporarily, until I have a chance to rearrange them.]
Wednesday, February 18, 2009
How many roads to the same place do we really need? Do we really need four roads to the same place?
#1, we have the Ski Hill road bypass that FEMA money built that connects to West road. [BLUE]
#2, we have West Jemez with the security portals that are working fine. [ORANGE]
#3, we have West Jemez from the Bandelier side. [RED]
We don't need a #4, within a half mile of two of the others? [PINK]
We are talking about saving travelers about a mile of distance. Is saving a mile of travel really worth all this?
There has to be better ways to spend 12 Million Taxpayer Dollars! (No matter where they come from: Local; State or Federal Tax Dollars.)
The cost is actually closer to 14 Million as I have been told that the cost of the Intersection can be dramatically reduced if the Bypass is not part of the project. Simple center median turn lanes can be installed instead of a full scale intersection, saving about 2 million or so on the project.
What are we bypassing?
The DOE/NNSA has already said that if they close the West Jemez security portals to the public in a high security condition that they may also be forced to close the Los Alamos Canyon Bridge crossing and West Road into Los Alamos Canyon, which is their right (it's all DOE land). This would include closing the proposed Bypass Road, if it's built.
In an emergency, if the Lab does NOT close West road then we can use it to bypass the security portals, while the badged Lab employees can continue to use the West Jemez security portals as usual. The amount of traffic using West road would remain relatively low, even in this situation.
The NNSA has already indicated that a new Bypass road is a security issue: At the January 27, 2004 Council Meeting, Mr. Martinez of the NNSA said, "Any bypass road in this area [TA-3] would still be too close to the areas the NNSA was trying to protect." What is going to stop the NNSA from gating the new Bypass, especially after the Science Center is in full swing?
There is just no compelling reason to spend 12+ million taxpayer dollars on a redundant half-mile bypass other than the fact that the momentum to build it is seemingly unstoppable now. Continually pointing out that we have spent great effort getting this far, is not a valid reason to continue, if the payoff for this project is so small, compared to the huge effort and large sums of money yet to be expended on this project. We have plenty of good ways to get to our Jemez Mountain destinations and to our Ski Hill today without destroying a side canyon with fill and pavement.
The Ski Hill was having a bang up year until the snow stopped. People are not having trouble getting there, even out of towners. The critical need of the Ski Hill is SNOW and not four different ways to get to the ski hill. Investing in snow making capability will provide a much bigger economic payoff for our County than building another Bypass.
The Los Alamos Business community should be very leery of being "Bypassed." If we build the bypass connector, we are likely to inadvertently make Totavi the "gateway" to the Jemez Mountains, as this Bypass road will tend to shoot visitors right up and down the Truck route, completely "bypassing" Los Alamos, Bypassing our stores, Bypassing our gas stations and Bypassing our restaurants. Maintaining West Road as our one Bypass will tend to lead many visitors through Los Alamos where our business community will have a decent shot at capturing more tourist dollars.
And to make matters worse, if we do build the Bypass, the NNSA has indicated that they will close West road beyond the Ice Rink and Reservoir access road. This closure will eliminate the most enjoyable route we have to our Jemez Mountain Destinations. Why would we want to take a perfectly fine road, have it closed and then destroy a large swath of open space to build a new road that goes to basically the SAME PLACE? Is this an environmentally sound policy?
Let's not bulldoze more forest to build a road of dubious value to our County. Let's resurface the neglected West road, let's improve the Ice Rink parking, let's improve the signage to assist visitors in finding their way around, let's help get snow making installed at Pajarito and let's build an improved intersection for the Research Park, if that's whats needed.
And consider the mountain roads that we drive to visit our beloved Jemez Destinations. West road, in it's current dilapidated condition, is still a better road design than the ultra steep portions of Camp May road and the crazy hairpin curve and inclines going up Hwy 4 from West Gate. Ironically, West road is the good part of these trips!
Two years of use as our Bypass has proven West Road's utility as our only necessary bypass road.
Rather then me regurgitate their excellent points, it is best if you hear directly from the Candidates themselves. This short clip is taken from the League of Women Voters Candidates Forum held October 1st 2008, used with permission. (Approx. 6 minutes.)
Quotes from Candidates (in case you don't/can't view the video):
Sharon Stover, "I think we got taken by DOE on that project." "When you look at the cost of the project and the impact, that would be a project that, if the bottom fell out, if we had to re-look at projects, that would be one that my eye would be looking towards."
Mike Wismer, "The environmental impact, the fill alone that's going to be necessary to build the double bypass is simply not worth it. It's not worth the damage to the environment and we don't need it."
Ken Milder, "We could probably spend that money on other economic development projects and get more bang for our buck."
Vincent Chiravalle, "I don't feel this project best serves the people of Los Alamos County." "There are already two roads that can provide us access to the ski hill..."
Manny Baca's opposition to the Bypass was express in the Petition. (Not show in Clip).
These images are looking South West from the town site across Los Alamos Canyon Bridge to the Research Park and beyond. The big research park building has the blue roof.
The proposed Bypass Road is added in gray in the second image. The Red line indicates where the huge retaining wall will be built to contain the road on the slope of the side canyon that it will be build on. The Yellow line is where the pedestrian tunnel/overpass will be located. These are all approximate locations working from County drawings. The Radiation symbols indicate the location of potential release sites (PRS) that have been identified that could be an issue because of road drainage. The Lab intends to clean them up, as I understand it.
The Lab is planning to build a new Science Center between West Jemez and the Ski Hill Bypass, near where the small push pin is located. This new complex will include both classified and unclassified space for one-quarter to one-third of the Laboratory’s science and engineering workforce.
The following two slides are available on the County's website under the Bypass Project topic and where used as part of a presentation to Council.
A one quarter of a mile long "Dam" like structure will be built to hold the Bypass Road on the slope of the side canyon to Los Alamos Canyon. The structure will be approximately Forty Feet tall in some areas.
The proposed Bypass is being built on the slope in order to maximize the flat buildable area that is available for the Research Park, which has plans to construct more buildings on it's leased land.
A tremendous amount of fill will be used to create this "Dam" like structure for the Road Bed. I'm told that there isn't enough fill in the County to create this "Dam" and that tons and tons of fill will need to be trucked in from sources outside of the County.
In February 2003, the DOE/NNSA planned to built the North Bypass Road themselves without County involvement. At some point after that, the DOE/NNSA abandoned this North Bypass plan as too costly and the County eventually brought a suit against the DOE/NNSA based on alleged NEPA violations on December 27, 2005. A settlement of the suit occurred in April 2006, providing the County with an easement agreement from the DOE/NNSA that would allow the County to construct it's own Bypass road. Meanwhile, LANL built the Ski Hill Bypass (using FEMA funding) that connected to West Road and provided Los Alamos with non-security gated access to Jemez Mountain destinations. The Ski Hill Bypass opened in late 2007, and has performed well since that time.
The County is relying on a Supplement Analysis [SA] of the Security Perimeter project done by the DOE/NNSA in February 2003 (reference link below) in order to cover the County's NEPA obligations. (Previous DOE/NNSA environmental assessments are also being relied upon by the County, and are referenced in this SA. NEPA requirements are triggered when Federal Moneys are used in a project.)
In the February 2003 SA, in a table of "potential environmental consequences of the Security Perimeter Project," under the category "Biological Resources" the SA states:
The proposed security perimeter road would cross a side
canyon that drains into Los Alamos Canyon by way of a
bridge constructed to span that area. Changes in rerouting
traffic into this area would not likely result in major changes
to biological resources of the area.
The County's design now calls for a large quarter mile long dam-like structure that would carry the Bypass road on top of it. This structure and road would essentially fill a major portion of this side canyon with dirt and could disrupt migration patterns within this habitat by fragmenting the research park property.
This is a major change from the DOE/NNSA's plan described in the SA that is now being used by the County for this project. Does this change necessitate a fresh NEPA review to take a look at the effect this contiguous dam like structure would have on the local environment?
I have received the following note from the County:
"The West Jemez Bypass will avoid Archaic sites identified in other investigations. Los Alamos County provided LANL with the copies of the roadway alignment plans for review, and LANL did not identify any Archaic sites along the selected alignment."
I leave the next few paragraphs for reference, but I don't see Cultural Resources as an issue.....
Because of changes in the placement of the Bypass and the fact that it is being placed primarily on a slope, it can be assumed that many of the Cultural Resource issues are lessened. In any case, the SA goes on to state:
The four Archaic sites are eligible for preservation. The planned construction of the perimeter road would adversely affect two of the recorded prehistoric archaeological sites in the area. The other two can be avoided. A Traditional Cultural Property [TCP] is also present within the project area. Adverse affects to this TCP by construction of the perimeter road are currently being identified by San Ildefonso Pueblo in consultation with LANL archaeologists.
Because the construction of a portion of the perimeter road would be an adverse effect to two of the Archaic sites, under Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 (as amended) and 36 CFR Part 800.5, “Assessment of Adverse Effects”, a data recovery plan would be prepared to resolve these adverse effects and would be negotiated between the SHPO and the NNSA DOE. The data recovery plan would specify mitigation actions for each site. It is likely that at least one of the sites will require full excavation as an acceptable method for mitigating any adverse effects. The other sites will likely need partial or no excavation provided they could be avoided.
A Memorandum of Agreement for resolution of adverse effects would be prepared following SHPO concurrence on the NRHP eligibility assessment and would implement the data recovery plan. The Advisory Council on Historic Preservation would be notified of the Memorandum of Agreement and would have an opportunity to comment. No disturbance of the two Archaic sites or the TCP can take place until LANL and NNSA DOE prepare and implement the data recovery plan for mitigation of adverse effects.
Questions based on the above SA statements:
1 - Has the number of Archaic sites eligible for preservation changed as a result of changes in the layout and design of the Bypass Road (without a bridge)?
2 - Has the "adverse affects" analysis (by San Ildefonso Pueblo and LANL Archeologist) described above been completed (if still necessary)?
3 - Which, if any sites will now require full excavation as a result of changes in Bypass layout and design?
4 - Has a SHPO approved data recovery plan been completed with notification and comments of the Advisory Council on History Preservation (if this notification is still required)?
I have submitted these Cultural Resource questions to the County's project manager for the Bypass and hope that they can be cleared up shortly. I will update here once I know more about the answers.
DOE Ref - 034 Final Security Perimeter Road SA.pdf
-We don't need another route to the Jemez Mountain destinations
(three is plenty).
-Uses up more open space unnecessarily.
-Disrupts and fragments environment/habitat of Research Park property.
-Two winter seasons have shown us that the current road configuration is working.
-The lab has indicated they will close West Road if the County builds the Bypass.
-Makes Totavi the gateway to the Jemez and "Bypasses" Los Alamos.
-Too Costly: 12+ Million for a half mile road? (Does not include the 3+ million for the intersection, which would be cut by about 1/3 if there is no Bypass built).
Have the Citizens of Los Alamos been bamboozled into building a road that primarily benefits the lab? A road that the Lab itself rejected as too costly to build?
"Obama warns mayors on waste of stimulus money," Boston Globe, February 21st, 2009:
"We cannot tolerate business as usual - not in Washington, not in our state capitals, not in America's cities and towns," Obama continued. "If a federal agency proposes a project that will waste that money, I will not hesitate to call them out on it and put a stop to it. And I want everybody here to be on notice that if a local government does the same, I will call them out on it and use the full power of my office and our administration to stop it."
Despite it's wealth of land further South, the Lab is steadily, each year, moving more of it's operations closer and closer to the rim of Los Alamos Canyon. The new National Security Sciences Building (NSSB) and the NNSA Los Alamos Site Office were both built next to State Hwy 501 (West Jemez Road), leading to the installation of the security portals on 501. Plans are underway to build a Science Center accessible from West Jemez Road, inside the Security Checkpoints. This complex will house secure and non-secure functions and is designed to move employees from old crumbling facilities further South to these new facilities closer to the rim. If the County builds this Bypass on DOE land, the Bypass runs the risk of suffering the same fate as State Route 501. Building County roads on DOE lands is risky, given the trend of the Lab moving more functions closer to the rim of Los Alamos Canyon. At some point, the Lab/DOE may declare a high level emergency and restrict access to their entire property, including rim areas, especially after the new Science Center is built and staffed with Employees that must be protected. The Lab may be transferred to the Pentagon where security would undoubtedly be ratcheted up greatly while the current collaborative and collegial atmosphere is reduced. If we truly wish to create a Bypass that we can rely on long term, it must be built on non-DOE property. But for the time being, West Road is perfectly adequate and can buy us time to study the current situation, to determine the Labs intentions and to acquire property if necessary.
Proponents of the Bypass point out that some tourists are having a difficult time at the security portals and they turn around. I believe this issue can be easily solved with proper signage (12 Million will buy a lot of nice signs). Right now there are big signs at the portals that say "Visitors Welcome." These signs are causing much of the problem. A copier repair man is a "Visitor" to the lab, tourists and travelers are not visitors. Some tourists see this sign and immediately feel that they are in the wrong place. They wonder if they made a wrong turn and ended up at a a National Lab that welcomes visitors. They do not want to approach the portals, they are just trying to point B on their map. Instead they turn around confused. They don't want to have to explain to a security guard why they are a "visitor" to a National Nuclear Weapons Laboratory when all they really want to do is to get to their destination. My Mom told me these signs would confuse her if she was from out of town. These are the types of signs you would see outside of any business compound and are very Tourist/Traveler unfriendly and confusing.
I'm no expert on signs, but the sign should instead say something such as "Thru Traffic May Proceed." This way tourists unfamiliar with the area will realize that it's OK to go through the gates, even if they are not technically "visitors" to lab. The word "Visitors" implies something completely different to tourists then the sign designers intended and is intimidating to tourists.
Also needed are couple signs at the Camp May Road / West Jemez intersection that point to the "Alternate Route" to Los Alamos for those who don't want to go through the Security Portal (and some addition signs along the route).
We can fix this with much better signs or we can spend 12+ million on the Bypass.
So as Oscar Rogers from SNL would say, let's FIX IT.
The County's Public Works Projects - West Jemez Bypass webpage states:
"The County is obligated to construct its portion of the bypass by 2011."
The County is NOT obligated to build a bypass road. The 2011 deadline is based on the April 2006 settlement agreement with the DOE that states:
"Any easement or easements that DOE/NNSA grants to the County to construct this connector bypass road will revert to DOE/NNSA if the County does not begin construction of the road in earnest within 5 years from the date of execution of this Settlement Agreement."
The settlement does not create an obligation on the Countys part to build the road, but only an option to begin building it in earnest by April 2011, after which the option granted by the settlement will expire.
You can view the entire settlement HERE (note this is a large 10 meg pdf file).
A good source of LANL related NEPA documents is found here:
Here is an interesting quote from Mr. Martinez, NNSA, at the January 27,2004 Council Meeting, "Any bypass road in this area [TA-3] would still be too close to the areas the NNSA was trying to protect." So it seems that, at least at that time, the NNSA felt the Bypass road was a security risk. Wow! Did we force the Bypass upon the NNSA? How do they feel now? This indicates to me that the NNSA would be much more likely to close down the proposed new Bypass then the Ski Hill / West Road Bypass.
Please contact your Councilors and let them know that you are against the Redundant Bypass. Here are their email addresses for you to paste into your email:
firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org
If you have suggestions on things I have missed please let me know. I am relying on the public to bring up other issues that I have not covered here. There are many.
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