Sep 21, 2007

Expert panel recommended

ROGER SNODGRASS Monitor Assistant Editor

SANTA FE - The citizen's advisory board had a lot more to work with this week, as it took up a major recommendation for an expert panel to review the laboratory's groundwater monitoring program.

The board now has 15 members and 14 nominees, two more than the normally authorized number, although a few of the members will depart in the spring and the individual nominees must still pass a review by Department of Energy headquarters.

The Northern New Mexico Citizens Advisory Board, called CAB, is federally chartered to provide recommendations to DOE on issues related to environmental management and legacy waste.

With so many participants, the CAB resembled a ministerial meeting with long tables arranged in a large rectangle in the Jemez Complex of the College of Santa Fe Wednesday.

"We do have a large board," said newly re-elected Chair J.D. Campbell after the meeting. "It takes time for new members to get acquainted, not only with the acronyms but the work and issues at the lab."

Nominees participated with members in an extended discussion of the evening's main event, which was deciding whether or not they should recommend that DOE retain a group of national experts in scientific, technical and policy fields related to groundwater. Among the panel's purposes would be to provide independent peer review and advice for the LANL groundwater project.

Although a nearly finished draft with three recommendations had been worked out by the CAB's Environmental Monitoring, Surveillance and Remediation Committee before the meeting, a fourth recommendation was added to the document during a break before the formal discussion, requesting in the interest of public understanding and confidence that some of the meetings and all of the panel's comments would be open to the public.

During a presentation earlier in the meeting, New Mexico Hazardous Waste Bureau Chief James Bearzi indicated that he supported the independent group, although he did not promise always to agree with them.

George Rael, the DOE official in charge of the local program and Susan Stiger LANL's Associate Director for Environmental Programs, who made separate presentations to the CAB were also asked for their thoughts.

Rael recalled an example of a successful peer review panel at Sandia National Laboratories in the mid-1990s.

"We don't have all the expertise," he said, adding that it would depend on how the panel was structured and that perhaps it didn't need to be a "standing body."

Stiger said her experience on a range of such groups, "from peer review to advisory panel" was that "some worked and some didn't."

She said the work called for "a toolbox" with a range of these kinds of tools.

"One size doesn't fit all," she added.

In the enlarged board with many new participants, the issue went around the room a few times.

One current member in particular, Gerald Maestas of Espanola, a retired manager from LANL, resisted the recommendation.

"LANL can get the help they need without this recommendation," he said.

The board's is required to reach its recommendations by consensus, and there were several moments when consensus seemed elusive.

Helping the discussion along, newly elected Vice Chair Fran Berting, a Los Alamos County councilor, explained that the board members didn't have to agree fully with something, in order to be a part of the consensus.

"Yeah, I'll live with it," Maestas said, opening the way to an approval.

"It took a long time for everybody to be heard and not everybody thought they had that much to contribute," Campbell said after the meeting. "There were many questions raised and a lot of information requested."

He said the water issues, including the laboratory's response to recommendations made earlier this year by a panel of the National Academies of Science, would continue to receive a lot of attention in the coming months.

Independent peer review of the LANL groundwater-monitoring project was one of 17 recommendations of that committee.

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