While local governments hope that membership in a new coalition will allow them to participate more in the development of Los Alamos National Laboratory projects, a watchdog group warns that the idea smacks of a feudal system, with the communities paying fealty to their high-tech overlord.
was spearheaded by the Los Alamos County Council to rally local governments’ support for lobbying Washington to fund certain types of LANL projects. Los Alamos County is contributing as much as $150,000 to the start-up costs, while the City of Santa Fe and Santa Fe County are each contributing $10,000; Rio Arriba County, $18,000; the City of Española, $14,000; and Taos County, $3,750.
The funding contribution for each community is based on the percentage of lab employees who live in that jurisdiction. The approximately $200,000 total will pay the salary of an executive director and a program manager.
Los Alamos County put out a request for proposals for the lobbying firm to represent the coalition and has so far received two bids, but won’t release their names until the procurement process is over, Los Alamos County spokeswoman Julie Habiger says.
Los Alamos County Councilman Mike Wheeler tells SFR the purpose of the coalition is to “protect and preserve jobs, diversity and cleanup efforts at the laboratory.” He says the coalition should support development of non-weapons-related research at LANL, possibly opening up more opportunities for the surrounding communities.
Santa Fe Mayor David Coss gives the example of a company originally called Clear Air Systems that developed out of technology created at the lab and, ultimately, brought 60 jobs to Santa Fe. He hopes that the coalition will be able to foster similar ventures.
Santa Fe County Commissioner Kathy Holian says she thinks a regional coalition is likely to have more power to secure money for cleanup and other projects than LANL would by itself.
And Taos County Commission Chairman Daniel Barrone wants to see the development of a LANL satellite campus based in Taos.
Wheeler says that’s not an unrealistic idea, though at this point in the process, those types of ideas are just “pie in the sky.”
Still, Wheeler says, representatives of US Sens. Tom Udall and Jeff Bingaman, D-NM, and of US Rep. Ben Ray Luján, D-NM, “didn’t discount this idea that there would be some federal funds available to help support” new LANL projects.
But Greg Mello, executive director of nuclear disarmament activism group
, says local government officials are signing on because they have naive expectations that they can influence LANL projects, as well as concerns of being perceived as disloyal to an important regional employer.
“There’s a natural fear that they’ll be left out of some sort of patronage from the laboratory—be perceived as non-cooperating and punished somehow,” Mello tells SFR. “It’s kind of a feudal structure where you’re just afraid to offend the duke on the hill.”
Barrone and Coss acknowledge one reason their communities are involved is to show support for LANL as an important employer.
“That’s part of it, yes,” Barrone tells SFR. “I mean, I have a history at the lab; my parents and my grandparents worked at the lab. It created jobs when there was no jobs, and it’s still creating jobs when there was no jobs.”
Los Alamos County also approached each of the eight northern pueblos, but only Tesuque has expressed an interest to sign the joint powers agreement, Wheeler says. Unlike the non-tribal governments in the coalition, Tesuque is not required to contribute financially.
Wheeler says the funding contributions are, in some ways, a token gesture by which the participating communities can show they buy into the idea of “ensuring the sustainability and the future of our community.”
Mello says that the idea of cash-strapped local governments contributing funds to a Los Alamos-centered project seems lopsided.
“Local government funds are being used to hire a lobbying firm for the lab,” Mello says. “And that’s really wrong. Local government has a lot of problems of their own, and the lab is very, very rich. It’s the largest institution in New Mexico. It doesn’t need financial help from Santa Fe or any other government.”