concern for community A PATH FORWARD: BOSQUE RESTORATION BY MICHAEL JENSEN n February 9, work began on a wide crusher-fines trail in the Bosque from the Central Avenue bridge north to the I-40 bridge. The trail is one of two components of what originally was called the Rio Grande Vision, part of Mayor Berry’s “ABQ The Plan,” and then became the Rio Grande Valley State Park Improvements Project. The other component is made up of a number of targeted Bosque restoration projects in the same area.
The onset of activity in the Bosque immediately polarized what appeared to be an evolving and improving relationship between City Open Space and Parks & Recreation and those in the community who had come together in 2013 to propose alternatives to some of the more extreme proposals in the original Rio Grande Vision. These included suggestions or “concepts” that indicated possible restaurants in or cantilevered out over the Bosque, large truck and trailer access to fully equipped boat launching facilities at numerous points along the river, and vague suggestions that the Bosque and river would be opened up to more general private sector development. Many of the suggestions coming from community members were put into motion by the City. The City scaled back its proposed near-term activity to the east side of the river from Central to Montaño (although generally speaking from Central to I-40). There were four Bosque Educational Forums held in the Summer of 2014 that were well attended and that received high marks from the public for how informative they were regarding the history, culture, and ecology of the Bosque. The City hired a consulting firm to carry out baseline environmental monitoring of the proposed project area and opened the report to public comment; the final report is expected soon. The Open Space Division also led a couple of small walks through the project area with trail and restoration experts. It also held two public walks through the entire project area to discuss possible trail alignments, the pros and cons of wide multi-user trails, the nature of proposed restoration work, and the constant need to balance the complicated relationship between conservation and public access. The goal of the project—trail alignment and restoration work—was to use the two components in concert with each other. Some trail consolidation and a likely multi-user trail would be done with projected restoration work in mind so the two would promote both more focused access and better ecosystem function.
PUBLIC PROCESS NEEDED
April 2015 5 whole project descended into renewed mistrust and politicization. A year’s worth of slowly building consensus evaporated. Beyond the short-circuiting of the public process, the Mayor’s office also bypassed long-established and, in some cases, legally required processes with a variety of local, state, and federal agencies, including its own Open Space Advisory Board review. Most of the agencies involved would have asked for nothing more than consultation beforehand in order to know what was being done. However, any entity doing work in the Bosque has an obligation to inform the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District and the US Bureau of Reclamation and see if they need a permit (generally issued by the Conservancy District). In addition, given the scope of the work, the City’s contractor was under an obligation to submit an online “Notice of Intent” with the Environmental Protection Agency (Dallas office) that they would be disturbing more than an acre of land. This is something that any contractor would have to do at a subdivision, for example.
Unfinished Process When the work began, the public process was not quite complete. The baseline monitoring report’s final version was still being worked on, to incorporate responses to public comments and perhaps some adjusted conclusions as well. The first public awareness that work would start soon came in a front-page editorial in the Albuquerque Journal on the Friday before work began. This editorial, as well as one the following Monday on the inside editorial page, sought to both telescope the impending work and criticize beforehand the expected protests from those in the community who would object to work commencing before the public process was complete. The sad irony is that those members of the community who had been most focused on creating and carrying out the public process had met on the evening before (February 8), to look at maps of the two alternatives presented to the Mayor’s Office earlier in February, and first revealed in the Journal, and to come up with a response. The response was to propose a hybrid plan to the Mayor on Tuesday. The hybrid would use “Option 1” for the trail in the northern project area and “Option 2” in the southern section. This hybrid would keep the trail away from the sensitive riverbank area for more of its alignment and provide more separation between the wide multi-use trail—mostly bicyclists, but also horses—and the narrower main “pedestrian” trail that already exists. So, instead of being able to announce a compromise solution that would meet the goals of both sides—more access, more restoration and conservation, and a more integrated implementation of these two needs—the
WIPP UPDATE WHAT IS KNOWN, WHAT IS UNKNOWN
BY DON HANCOCK, SOUTHWEST RESEARCH AND INFORMATION CENTER t has been more than a year since the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) was shut down because of an underground fire and a radiation release. No one knows what caused the release, so it is not possible to know if another incident could occur.
What is known is that the more than 8,000 feet of underground tunnels are radioactively contaminated, although the precise amounts have not been disclosed. To go into the contaminated underground area workers must wear personal protective equipment, including respirators, so they look much like health workers treating ebola patients.
A Path Forward As a result of community and agency protests over the City’s actions, a path forward is taking shape. Community members have been in discussions with the Mayor’s Office in order to develop a clear public process that the City will commit to follow for any additional work on the current trail and restoration project between Central and I-40, as well as any future work on the wider Vision. There is also work being done by some community members and agency representatives to develop a permanent public process for sharing information about all work being planned for the Bosque and river. The process would bring together all of the local, state, and federal agencies that do work in the Bosque or on the river, or that have any regulatory or consultative role in such work, on a regular basis to discuss their planned work and the timeline for relevant public and agency process that the work will go through prior to commencement. When the modern environmental movement started back in the late ’60s and early ’70s, marked by the passage of landmark Clean Air and Clean Water legislation and creation of the Environmental Protection Agency, the goals of environmentalism were mostly met through litigation, legislation, and protest. Those are all still necessary tools in dealing with threats to the environment and public health. But it has also become clear over the years that another tool is equally important: open, transparent processes that engage the community in decision-making. That process was started over plans for the Bosque—because the community protested enough to get it—but then cut short. We now have a chance to not just restart that process but build a better and more transparent one that engages the whole community.
Also known is that on December 6, 2014, New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez personally handed US Department of Energy (DOE) Secretary Ernest Moniz two Orders that proposed fines of $36.6 million on Los Alamos National Lab (LANL) and $17.7 million on WIPP because of numerous violations of the permits issued by the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED). DOE and the LANL and WIPP contractors have refused to pay the fines, even though they had previously paid fines of much lesser amounts. They maintain that NMED now does not have authority to issue such fines and that the Order “unconstitutionally discriminates against the United States.” If the fines are not paid or a settlement is not reached, the WIPP fines will go to a hearing on July 27 and a hearing regarding the LANL fines on September 21.
The plan is to begin “limited operations” in April 2016, even though they admit that they will continue to violate various provisions of the NMED permit. They hope to be fully operational by 2018 or 2019, even though they are likely to still be violating permit provisions. NMED Secretary Ryan Flynn has informed DOE that WIPP cannot re-open until the state approves. Whether WIPP will comply with that requirement is unknown.
A Plan to Re-open
Despite what is known and not known, DOE and its contractors do plan to reopen WIPP and put more waste into the contaminated areas underground.
Join KNOWASTE at EARTH on April 19!
Help make it a ZERO waste event! Look for waste sorting guides.
ACTION ALERT! TELL GOVERNOR MARTINEZ that WIPP SHOULD NOT REOPEN until the cause of the release is known and changes have been made to prevent another such accident. People can also tell Secretary Flynn that he should take further action to require compliance with the permit.
MAKE TRASH A THING OF THE
RESOURCES: • Governor Susana Martinez www.governor.state.nm.us/Contact_the_Governor.aspx • NMED Secretary Ryan Flynn call 505-827-2855 • DOE WIPP website special section on the radiation leak www.wipp.energy.gov/Special/ • NMED WIPP website www.nmenv.state.nm.us/wipp/index.html • SRIC nuclear waste homepage www.sric.org/nuclear/index.php
TAKE A C T I O N FOR S A F E T Y ’ S SAKE!
La Montañita Co-op's monthly newsletter from April 2015