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Resolution urges removal of LANL waste

SANTA FE, N.M. — The Santa Fe City Council on Wednesday unanimously approved a resolution calling on Los Alamos National Laboratory to analyze and dispose of its nuclear waste.

Mayor David Coss, who introduced the resolution, said public comment on the measure has consistently indicated that people want the waste removed – not a “cap and cover” solution.

“And so that is what we’ve put forward tonight. I’m very pleased. Santa Fe is the first but Santa Fe should not be the last” community to voice its opinion on the subject, he said.

The resolution states that Los Alamos’ “preferred” proposed remedial plan would leave a million cubic meters of “radioactive, toxic and hazardous waste” buried in pits and trenches at the laboratory’s Technical Area-54, Area G. That’s a 63-acre site that started accepting radioactive and hazardous wastes in 1957.

The resolution urges the New Mexico Environment Department to “NOT allow the de facto creation of a permanent nuclear waste dump by approving “cap and cover” of the estimated one million cubic meters of radioactive and hazardous wastes at LANL’s Area G.”

The resolution requests that NMED require a characterization and excavation of the waste and off-site disposal of “any high-level or transuranic radioactive waste. If high-level radioactive waste is found, the resolution calls for keeping it safely isolated in special storage containers until it can be transported off-site.

The resolution also calls for seismic and groundwater studies to be done before cleanup decisions are made, and for the New Mexico House Radioactive & Hazardous Materials Committee and Senate Energy & Natural Resources Committee to hold public hearings on the cleanup.

The resolution notes that Area G is 18 miles from the Santa Fe Plaza, five miles from Santa Fe’s Buckman Well Field near the Rio Grande and distances ranging from 0.10 to 54.25 miles from other area municipalities and pueblos.

“This resolution has relevance for the city of Santa Fe,” Councilor Ron Trujillo declared. He continued, “That nuclear waste is close to the Rio Grande. Should something catastrophic happen there I don’t want that hitting the Buckman.”

Coss, chairman of the Regional Coalition of Los Alamos National Laboratory Communities, said he hopes other the group’s other members follow suit.

“I think it’s not unreasonable for these communities to say, ‘You know, when you got the site from us it was clean and we’d like to keep it clean going forward and we do think in terms of four hundred, five hundred years,’ ” Coss said.

No LANL representatives spoke at the meeting Wednesday night, but a spokesman has previously said that under an existing consent order negotiated between the lab and the Environment Department “the final remedy at Area G will be decided by the state of New Mexico after receiving input from the public.”

“As that process continues, our sampling and monitoring to date – the results of which are all public – have shown that the buried material is safe where it is, now and for the foreseeable future,” spokesperson Fred DeSousa said last month.

A spokesman for the Environment Department provided a statement last month saying that LANL has presented a range of alternatives for the site, including “no action” and “complete removal” options. The Environment Department plans to issue a draft decision on its selected remedy for public comment.

Around 40 people packed into City Hall for the discussion and there were applause and cheers when the council passed the resolution. Around 16 people spoke in favor of the resolution during a public hearing, saying a true cleanup of Area G would offer environmental, economic and other benefits.

Teresa Chavez of Tewa Women United for Environmental Justice said the resolution will have a truly positive impact on her community, which she said has suffered from harms.

“Passing this resolution would be a step toward allowing the land and our people to heal,” she said.

Several people said the council’s passage of the resolution was an historic moment for New Mexico.

“I truly feel the resolution and what it leads to is the beginning of the only thing that stands in the way of the creation of a permanent waste dump,” Jay Coghlan of Nuclear Watch New Mexico said.

• Also on Wednesday, the City Council voted to package together on the March 2014 city election ballot several proposals that would result in the Santa Fe mayorship becoming a full-time position, chief executive officer-type position with administrative control over the city manager, city attorney and city clerk.

The mayor is now part-time, although most mayors traditionally work longer hours.

The package includes a mandate that an independent commission set the salary for a full-time mayor. The mayor’s salary would be $74,000 a year until the commission is created.

Councilors agreed to place separately on the ballot a proposal to allow the mayor to vote on all matters that go before the governing body. Currently, the mayor votes only when there’s a tie or when more than a simple majority vote is required to decide certain matters.

Voters will also be asked to weigh in on seven other proposals to amend the city’s governing charter, ranging from the creation of an independent city redistricting committee to limiting campaign contributions to adding language to the charter emphasizing the importance of water resources, neighborhoods, local business and a living wage.

• The City Council agreed on Wednesday to appeal to the New Mexico Supreme Court a recent state Court of Appeal ruling concerning the issuance of a liquor license to a Giant convenience store located across the street from Sweeney Elementary School and a Head Start center.

At issue in the case was whether the Giant at South Meadow and Airport Roads is within 300 feet of a school. State law bars liquor sales that close to a school or church.

The city said that state law requires that the distance be measured from property line to property line, which puts the measurement at 155 feet and requires a waiver from the city, which the City Council wouldn’t grant.

Western Refining Southwest Inc., Giant’s parent company, argued that the distance from the front door of the convenience store to the property line of the grounds of both Sweeney Elementary School and the Sweeney Head Start Center is 377 feet.

New Mexico Alcohol and Gaming officials agreed with Western Refining and approved transferring a liquor license to the Airport Road location from a closed-down Giant in another part of town, despite the City Council’s vote against the transfer.

Santa Fe took the matter to court and a District Court judge ruled in Santa Fe’s favor in 2012. The Court of Appeals recently sided with the state and Western Refining.