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Santa Fe County votes to withdraw from coalition

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – The beleaguered Regional Coalition of LANL Communities – a group of nine northern New Mexico counties, municipalities and pueblos that advocates for environmental cleanup funding and jobs at Los Alamos National Laboratory – appears to be crumbling.

The Santa Fe County Commission on Tuesday voted unanimously to withdraw from the coalition, created 10 years ago to ensure national decisions incorporate local needs and concerns of communities surrounding the lab.

Last week, the Taos County Commission voted 4-1 to withdraw from the coalition.

The outcome of Tuesday’s vote was sealed when commission chairman Henry Roybal, who served the last three years as chair of the coalition, described it as currently being “totally unsteady.” He noted that the coalition lost its federal funding from the Department of Energy, has been operating without an executive director since last year and lacks a fiscal agent moving forward, as Los Alamos County wants to relinquish that role.

“It just can’t continue to function in this manner,” he said.

Roybal said he still believes that the coalition can become a powerful collaborative voice with regard to issues impacting the communities. He said maybe the commission could reconsider its involvement with the coalition, if it is able to recoup its funding from the DOE.

The coalition has come under heavy scrutiny in recent years after an audit determined that former executive director Andrea Romero, now a state legislator, was improperly reimbursed for expenses, including meals where alcohol was served and tickets to a Major League Baseball game while she and other coalition officials were on a trip to Washington, D.C., in 2017. The state Auditor’s Office in 2018 identified more than $50,000 of improper reimbursements made to Romero, members of the coalition’s board and third-parties since 2014.

Soon thereafter, the coalition lost its funding from the Department of Energy over concerns that the coalition improperly used funding for lobbying purposes.

The DOE had awarded an annual grant of $100,000 to the coalition, which represented about half of its yearly budget. Members of the coalition contribute varying sums of money to the coalition each year. Santa Fe County contributed $10,000 each year.

Representatives with Nuclear Watch New Mexico and Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety spoke in opposition to extending the joint powers agreement that binds the coalition together, while no one spoke in favor during the public comment portion of the meeting.

Commissioner Anna Hansen said she did not receive one email in support of staying in the coalition, but received many in opposition.

The other communities that make up the coalition are Los Alamos and Rio Arriba counties, the town of Taos, cities of Española and Santa Fe and pueblos of Jemez and Ohkay Owingeh.

The Santa Fe City Council will consider its continued involvement with the coalition on May 26.

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