Source: The Hour | June 15, 2020

A New Mexico county has asked the U.S. Department of Energy to relinquish a parcel of excess land at no cost to be used for housing and economic development.

Los Alamos County requested 4.8 square miles (12 square kilometers) in White Rock for homes, businesses, light industry, and schools, The Santa Fe New Mexican reported Saturday.

The county offered to provide part of the land, comprising three defunct technical areas in White Rock, to Los Alamos National Laboratory to build support facilities and enhance its operations.

Less than 10% of the land would be developed, with most of that portion used for an increase in housing needed for the lab’s growing workforce and to attract businesses to the area.

U.S. Sen. Pete Domenici of New Mexico drafted legislation in the late 1990s enabling free transfers of federal property to the county. County leaders sent a 14-page proposal in December requesting the transfer.

The federal government owns 86% of the community’s land, while the county controls the remainder, although only about a third of that area can be developed because of canyons, rocky hillsides and other rugged terrain, the proposal said.

Los Alamos’ housing shortage impedes business growth because there are too few people living in town to attract new retailers, the proposal said.

County Manager Harry Burgess said he is holding monthly talks about the potential transfer with the National Nuclear Security Administration, a branch of the energy department.

The department is evaluating excess property that no longer supports the lab’s requirements, but there are no current commitments to transfer land, administration spokesman Toni Chiri said.

An agreement to transfer land to the county would be followed by public hearings, although County Councilor James Robinson cautioned that years could pass before ground is broken on any development.

“Los Alamos loves to make master plans, and this would be one of the most important ever made by our citizens,” Robinson said.