AOPA concerned over impact of Los Alamos landfill project

September 23, 2004

AOPA concerned over impact of Los Alamos landfill project

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Los Alamos County Airport (photo courtesy Dane Spearing, copyright 2001)

It's some pretty nasty stuff in the old dump beside the Los Alamos Airport (LAM), New Mexico, runway: cesium, plutonium, PCBs, pesticides, and lead. And the Department of Energy (DOE), the airport's owner, has been ordered to clean it up. But the cleanup might create new problems for airport users, so AOPA has teamed up with the New Mexico Department of Transportation in urging DOE to suspend the project until the FAA can evaluate it.

LAM sits on top of a mesa, and for years both Los Alamos County and the Los Alamos National Laboratory (developer of many of the nation's nuclear weapons) dumped trash off the edge. The DOE cleanup plan calls for exhuming all that waste from the gullies and arroyos and encapsulating it in a 9-foot-tall berm paralleling the runway. But DOE hasn't notified the FAA about the project, as it is required to do by federal law.

AOPA's Airport Support Network volunteer for Los Alamos, David Carroll, alerted AOPA to the issue and asked the association to weigh in with federal and county authorities.

"Local pilots have safety concerns about the berm," said John Collins, AOPA government technical specialist. "They fear wind shear off the mini-mountain during frequent gusty crosswinds. It also appears it would stick up into what is supposed to be protected airspace." And there are concerns that the top-side landfill would prevent any further aeronautical development of the limited space available.

AOPA contacted Los Alamos County, which currently operates the airport and will eventually be deeded the airport land from the DOE, about these issues. Heeding AOPA's concerns, the county council voted Tuesday to require that environmental remediation efforts follow the airport plan, and that all appropriate state and federal agencies, including the FAA, be involved in developing the remediation plan. The council also called for public hearings before DOE proceeds with the cleanup project. AOPA is continuing to work directly with county officials.

AOPA also has asked the DOE to suspend the October start date for the project and give the FAA the notification and time needed to conduct an obstruction evaluation.

Read AOPA's letter to DOE.

September 23, 2004