A community advocacy newspaper for northern New Mexico
Box 6 El Valle Route, Chamisal, NM 87521
Los Alamos Revisited, Part Two By Peter Malmgren
On Thursday we harvested garlic,
rototilled the now vacant field,
and weeded the garden
so we could once again find the vegetables. On Friday, we spent five hours in the hot sun cutting wood on our contract stewardship block near the village of El Valle, where La Jicarita News editors Mark and Kay live (if you can guess how many cords are on this trailer
you win the opportunity to be a member of the wood crew next year). Pictured on the victory wood pile are,
on the top: Dave Correia, visiting professor of
American Studies at the University of New Mexico, with his
two daughters, Willa and Harper; below Dave, left to right:
Jake Kosek, professor of Political Geography at the
University of California Berkeley and former
Trucheño; Jakob Schiller, freelance photojournalist
and PhD student in American Studies at the University of New
Mexico; Ike DeVargas, longtime norteño activist and
founding member of La Companía Ocho of Vallecitos;
and Eric Shultz (scrambling to get on the pile), writer,
photographer, and norteño activist.
It took four chainsaws to deal with all the small diameter trees we cut on the stewardship block, where the Forest Service marks the "leave trees" and we cut everything else (Ike complained vociferously that we were doing the work the Forest Service should be doing, and he was right), but the cutting area is five minutes from our house and what better way to get all our compadres together. We quit around four, just in time to have a beer before the rain came down in torrents.
By Peter Malmgren
The controversy over the proposed Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Building Replacement (CMRR) at Los Alamos National Laboratory continues. The Obama administration has approved a budget request to fund this facility, which will increase the capacity at LANL to build plutonium pits, the triggers for nuclear bombs. The Albuquerque based Los Alamos Study Group has filed has sued the Department of Energy and the National Nuclear Security Administration, which manages LANL and other nuclear facilities, demanding that a new Environmental Impact Statement (the previous EIS for CMRR was released in 2003) be promulgated for the expanded and more costly CMRR. Lest we forget, the previous production site for plutonium pits, Rocky Flats in Colorado, was shut down because of its extensive contamination of the region (it was classified a Superfund site).
LANL has a less than stellar environmental record. It has been sued over its failure to protect air and water resources and been fined by the New Mexico Environment Department for failure to meet clean-up deadlines. The most egregious violations, affecting both the environment and the health of its work force, occurred during World War II and the immediate post-war years but continued into the 1970s and 80s, as Peter Malmgren's oral history documents. In February 2010 La Jicarita News ran the first installment of Malmgren's project, Los Alamos Revisited, which was initiated by the Rio Arriba Environmental Health Association in the year 2000. Its purpose was to tell the story of the creation of Los Alamos National Laboratory from the vantage point of the people who helped built it. In this second installment Malmgren provides some additional background on the project along with several more of the workers' stories.
I was a volunteer in a group called the Rio Arriba Environmental Health Association at the college in Española. Ken Silver, our esteemed leader mentioned that the Center for Disease Control had come to Los Alamos to do a long term study of health effects. He thought it would be appropriate if we undertook a parallel study that focused on oral history, not document retrieval, which was their intent. I had been involved in oral history work for some years and raised my hand to volunteer. That was it. Little did I know what the future held.
The first thing I did was to broach the idea to two people. The first was my next- door neighbor, a cantankerous retired welder who did top secret work and was loathe to talk about it. He said flat out, don't even bother. I won't talk to you and I doubt whether anyone else will either. Next I called an academic in Albuquerque who had advised us on previous projects and had been involved in Los Alamos oral history himself. He also said, forget about it. Things are much too hot at the Lab and no one is going to open up. Well, I was zero for two and the air was leaking out of my ambition. Strangely enough, all the negativity made me more determined to find out for myself if the wall of silence was impenetrable.
I started at my senior center and slowly worked outward, largely spinning my wheels for several months until an extraordinary opportunity came my way. A meeting was held on March 18, 2000 at the community college in Española. It was inspired by Bill Richardson's legislation that proclaimed the government was finally accepting responsibility for the health effects of nuclear workers all over the country. So people flocked to hear their legislators: they came on crutches, they came wheeling oxygen tanks, and the widows spoke for their deceased husbands. It was an historic day. Silences were broken, people spoke in impassioned tones, demands were made. Meanwhile, I was out in the lobby, snagging as many people to sign up for the oral history work as possible. I went home inspired and with a long, long list of potential participants.
As time went by I spread out all over the valley throughout 20 communities and visited in trailers, old adobes, and in senior centers. I had envisioned my work as primarily focused on blue-collar workers, but at a certain point I pulled in some scientists, too. The themes that emerged over the years were these: patriotism, pride in work, discrimination, concern for health and safety. It's easy to pull out excerpts that describe some of the more horrific things that men were expected to do and the deadly effects, but it's also very important that we acknowledge the positive aspects of the work.
Hispanic workers came to the Lab in the early years with very little formal education and were no match for their Anglo counterparts. Those who managed to excel did so on the strength of their native intelligence. The technicians worked closely with the scientists early on and often solved problems for them. A scientist might scribble a design and toss it on the workbench and pray that somebody might actually produce it. The technicians rarely got credit for their critical work, but the scientists knew how much they relied on the techs' abilities.
Discrimination was an ugly reality that periodically reared its head. Joe Mascareñas from Apodaca talked about the fact that a junior man, who happened to be an Anglo, was hired and immediately given a higher salary than the senior, Hispanic employee. Many suffered this indignity but Joe had a philosophical approach. He thought, "Well, I have my ranch, my cows, and my large, loving family. I have my deep faith and my roots on the land. If he gets more money because of the color of his skin, it's not everything. He is a long way from his home."
Other men dealt with the indignities of racial inequality more aggressively. I think of Leo Vigil who stood his ground and talked truth to power. He took to task the doctors who tried to minimize his radioactive rashes. Ruben Montoya from Sigma Building read me a list of 30 men who had worked in that facility and died prematurely. He was clearly a gifted technician who could solve problems that no one else could but was consumed by his anger at the kind of treatment he received. It was eating him up and making him so ill he had to retire to save himself. "Don Sandstrom came in there all gung ho, he was a metallurgical engineer and had a master's degree. He said, you guys don't do anything until I tell you how to do it. I said fine, but nothing was getting done. One day he asked, Ruben, what am I doing wrong? I said, Don, why don't you let the technicians do their jobs. We know materials. You have all the theories, but technicians have a feel for what they are working with. I have that feel. I know what I can and cannot do with these materials after a while."
Ray Maestas lost his leg to a rare cancer at an early age. He developed great skills with his hands as a consequence of his lack of mobility. "I was involved in various activities. There were 40 or 50 bombs that were fired at R-Site, K-Site, and Ancho Canyon. The vessel was up to six inches thick with a 20 pound charge placed inside. They were testing mainly the triggering devices. They sent me out to Nevada for just two hours so that I could stick a gauge on a nuclear bomb. Of the 8,000 men out there they couldn't find anyone who could do it. Since I have small fingers, the hair-like wires are no problem."
Casey Stevens was known as a "super tech." He came to the Lab with a great deal of design experience and was given many of the most challenging jobs that the Lab had to offer. One of the more challenging ones was going "down hole" at the Nevada Test Site and preparing the diagnostics for the underground test program. "Two holes were dug about 4,000 feet in depth: one held the rack and one was for personnel. On the bottom we had horizontal tunnels to work in. We worked for months readying the equipment and cables for the shot. You are putting in data collecting electronic equipment down hole, optical equipment instruments, things of all kinds that would transmit information through cables or tubes to the top. The cables came out of the ground and were connected to diagnostic trailers that gathered the data."
There were true patriots like Gene Westerhold who worked on the Hill for over 40 years and believed in its mission. He was a genuine hero, one of the men who volunteered to deal with a critical accident in the 1950s that could have taken the whole Lab down. Gene and a few of his pipefitter buddies stepped up and risked their lives to save the day. And at the end of this remarkable career he thought he would ask for a review of his medical records to get a sense of what all his exposures meant for his future health. The man who responded to his request wasn't even a doctor. He came out with a single piece of paper that was filled with inaccuracies. Gene was hurt and mad. Did they think I wanted to sue them? All I wanted was a realistic look at my medical future. This was how Los Alamos treated one of its finest.
Gene died recently and I felt like I lost a special friend. He was a remarkable man and an incomparable storyteller. In his honor I'd like to include one of his more compelling stories.
"Seemed like Building 2 was the worst. I remember one time when a line salted up, which means that caustic solution solidified in the pipe. It was a three-fourths inch lead pipe, 10 feet long, which we beat on with hammers, heated with torches, but couldn't free up. So we made up a new section of stainless with flanges on the end, set up scaffolding, and prepared to change it out. Eddie got his end disconnected, then plugged it with a stopper and taped it of. Just as I was to stopper my end, it broke loose and sprayed me with solution, acid laced with plutonium.
They got me down fast and I started to feel the burning. Got all my clothes and badges off and they went in the trash. They rolled out brown paper in front of me and I walked through Building 2 just as naked as a jaybird. Then they threw me in the shower and I started scrubbing with verisane. I did that for a long time. Then they walked me over to the big Geiger counter, the one that could count up to 100,000 millirems a minute and I couldn't even get near the probe. I read infinity from the soles of my feet on up.
Then they ordered Henry and Snowball to get into that shower with me and they scrubbed until the blood came. The readings held at infinity. Finally they sent me over to Madie Nunn, the old Army nurse, and said that she would grease me down with Vaseline, give me bed sheets and government clothes and send me home. Time was to do the rest. Here I was, a 26-year old boy in a lab coat and wooden clogs. That nurse took a look at me hard and said, "You know, you're what I've always dreamed of, a nice, clean cut young man that's hotter than hell!"
I'd like to end with the words of one young custodian I interviewed, who summed up his view of Los Alamos by saying, "the devil is dancing up there." This is a wonderful example of the duality of the Los Alamos experience &endash; the yin and yang, the pleasure and pain, the seduction and the dark consequences. At the end of every interview I asked the same question, if you had your life to live over would you follow the path that lead you to Los Alamos. The response was an even 50/50 split. The first group praised the work, the economic stability, and urged their children and grandchildren to follow. The other half was equally adamant in the other direction: If I had known what I know now, I never would have set foot in the place. I would certainly never allow my children to follow me there. The glaring contrasts were based on health. Those who put in a lifetime of work and managed to dodge the bullet of ill-health had plenty to crow about. Those who were less fortunate, and they numbered in the many hundreds, knew it was too high a price to pay, pure and simple.
Congratulations to all the young people from across the country who spent 10 days in August at the Disarmament Summer Encampment in Chimayó organizing for a nuclear-free world. Think Outside the Bomb (TOTB) &endash; the nation's largest youth-led network working for nuclear abolition &endash; hosted about 150 youth who joined together to oppose the far reaching nuclear-industrial-complex.The encampment was the culmination of TOTB's Disarmament Summer Campaign, which has come at a time when the nation is spending more on the nuclear complex than ever before, including budgeting seven billion dollars to modernize facilities in New Mexico, Kansas City, and Tennessee &endash; a series of projects that would give the U.S. the capability to make new nuclear weapons. During the encampment, students participated in workshops, informative first-hand stories, and an ongoing discussion about why nuclearism still plagues this country and how we can put an end to it.
On Friday, August 6, many of the campers traveled to Los Alamos to commemorate the U.S. attack on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan. After a rally at Ashley Pond in downtown Los Alamos, TOTB led a group of about 120 people that filed onto the far-right traffic lane of Trinity Drive and marched west toward LANL, disrupting traffic on Trinity Drive, Diamond Drive, and the intersection near LANL before they moved to the area in front of the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Building Replacement. Eight protestors were arrested and charged with state misdemeanor trespassing after sitting on the ground with arms and hands locked together blocking the door of the building.
For more information regarding the activities of Think Outside the Bomb go to their website at www.thinkoutsidethebomb.org.
Sugar Nymphs Bistro in Peñasco has changed its summer hours to accommodate back-to-school students and teachers who might want an afternoon pizza or late lunch. The restaurant will be open on Wednesday through Saturday from 11:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Regular lunch will be served from 11:30 to 2:30; afternoon light lunch, pastry, and pizza from 2:30 to 5:50; and dinner from 5:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday brunch is served from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. The phone number is: 575 587-0311.
"As in every kind of radicalism the moment comes when any critique of the present must choose its bearings, between past and future. And if the past is chosen, as now so often and so deeply, we must push the argument through to the roots that are being defended; push attention, human attention, back to the natural economy, the moral economy, the organic society, from which the critical values are drawn."
&endash; Raymond Williams
Scott Boyd's Letter to New Mexico State Legislators: We May Have the Opportunity To Manage the Rio Grande Equitably This Time Around
As we've reported previously in La Jicarita News, the Lower Rio Grande Adjudication (LRGA) will determine federal water rights on the Rio Grande with regard to Elephant Butte Irrigation District (EBID) and whether those rights were fraudulently acquired from the Rio Grande Project. At the adjudication's August status conference the Court partially lifted its stay of trial (while the governmental parties are involved in mediation) so that other parties to the case can file a claim of interest and their legal position regarding the adjudication of the federal water rights before the end of the month. The parties in mediation can file their objections to these senior water rights claims before September 10.
Scott Boyd, who represents the Boyd estate in the adjudication, believes that the federal government illegally seized his great-grandfather Nathan Boyd's Rio Grande Dam and Irrigation Company, including all rights of way, the dam he had constructed to serve the irrigation needs of LRG irrigators, and the water rights the farmers had already tuned over to the company. It took this action under what is referred to as Application 8, citing the War Powers Act to make the claim that the Rio Grande was a navigable river above El Paso and Boyd's dam interfered with ship travel (the Army Corps of Engineers declared the river was only irrigable, not navigable).
Scott Boyd recently sent a letter to New State legislators outlining his position and laying out his vision for management of the Rio Grande. We are excerpting parts of that letter below, along with some summarizations of his opinions regarding water management in New Mexico.
Boyd believes that under Application 8, the federal government (which, as we reported in the July issue of La Jicarita News, may have failed to file a valid application) sought to manage all "unappropriated water of the Rio Grande," and once the New Mexico Territory became a state, the Office of the State Engineer (OSE) began permitting these water rights. In his letter, Boyd points out that by law water is managed under the prior appropriation doctrine that recognizes local community and private rights of water supplies. In reality, however, the OSE, under Application 8, began to issue permits and adjudicate preexisting water rights.
In his letter Boyd states: "Today, the question to be asked is why Application 8 remains the basis of both Federal and State governments' claims. The two legal systems cannot coexist much longer, indeed they are on a collision course; and unfortunately, it is the State that is liable and will be seen as rogue. As the recent and numerous SE [State Engineer] defeats in various courts suggest, the costs of these water management and adjudication problems will increase exponentially so long as the SE's role includes settlements that replace adjudication under state laws. . . . It is the courts' exclusive jurisdiction to adjudicate both pre- and post- 1906 rights that will bring about legal adjudication."
In the April issue of La Jicarita we reported that there are four Stream System Issues being heard in the adjudication, or issues that affect the interests of all or most of the parties. The most recently added issue, Stream System Issue SS-97 104, gets at the heart of Scott Boy's claim that the federal government illegally seized his great-grandfather's Rio Grande Company to construct the Elephant Butte Dam to supply irrigation water to LRG farmers and that those water rights have to be quantified and validated as part of the process.
Boyd's letter continues: "Will New Mexico take advantage of the rare opportunity being provided it to reverse the Federal mandates made during the State's infant territorial days and reset it's own future course in managing the Rio Grande?
"Regardless of the final outcome, this is a crossroads, as the adjudication will include questions with respect to the Territorial Engineer's role in U.S. Application 8 and what happened subsequently. It would be a great mistake to assume that the governmental controls through a permitted process [are] legal, and the time for the New Mexico legislature to consider carefully what this means is now. If it is determined that the state permit is not valid, what does this mean to the federal administration systems of jurisdictional claims to control the Rio Grande? Who does control? One cannot determine the full effects of [the Rio Grande] Compact terms and preexisting rights downstream or upstream of Elephant Butte in the LRGA until there is a determination of all pre-1906 Project rights and prior diversions up and down the Rio Grande.
"I believe the true legal system of laws to manage the Rio Grande is dictated under state laws along with our U.S. and New Mexico constitutional system of civil rights which protects and defends the rights to beneficial use of the Rio Grande. Foremost under these laws is the legal due process right of each and every water right claimant in New Mexico to defend their individual and community water rights &endash; including the many and significant historical rights. These rights were first guaranteed under the Hidalgo Treaty of 1848 and subsequent territorial laws that protect the local land and water supplies of the land grants and their community ditches as well as the individual land owners. Most importantly, all pre-permitted rights share an equal footing of equal rights with the ultimate senior Pueblos' sovereign water rights and land grant claims.
"The acequia system under local rule is what has made New Mexico so special in the past and this must be preserved in the present. Aside from giving the State its unique character, recent studies show that the acequias (or community ditches) protect the environment and subsurface water tables for everyone, not to mention provide open habitat for both man and all other living species. Most importantly, the acequias under priority doctrine provide the means of insuring not only food, but the State's food security. Modernity has in no way changed the fact that the stability of society is contingent on its food base, and the assumption that global trade negates the State's responsibility to protect and insure so fundamental a need as food and water is false. There is a reason agriculture has the historic water rights, and a reason for the priority doctrine that protects them that goes to socioeconomic sustainability. And adjudication of water rights through a hydro-graphic survey cannot be misconstrued as the role of water management by the SE. His plan for more water supply today for the people of New Mexico is to do away with more farms and give the water to the thirsty cities. This is a dangerous plan with serious and far reaching consequences. . . .
"I believe the solutions lie in the enactment by the New Mexico Legislature to form a 'Rio Grande Water Authority', a state and private water utility authority that would foster a new age of accountability, management, and water conservation through efficiency and sound legal water transfers. Rather than dividing the river through Compact claims and uncertainty over who owns what water, the Authority would build cooperation on the already developing links between all water right owners and water users in the various regions, as well as the cities and government. . . .
"By implementing a more direct flow system and taking advantage of evaporation rights that have sat in reservoirs as idle storage rights for Compact claims, we can create upstream wet lands and recharge ports to store water for all, including the river. Those above Elephant Butte must not think that they can re-appropriate the water that has been historically appropriated in southern New Mexico without an open, honest cooperative [association] that benefits all. This re-examination of the historical claims at Elephant Butte by the State court provides New Mexico an opportunity to regain control over the water of the Rio Grande and its future &endash; and this in itself is priceless.
"What I suggest more immediately is for the Legislature, in support of the defense of the pre-existing rights of the people of New Mexico, to enact legislation to establish a 'Rio Grande Council' to build cooperation and to investigate, identify and determine all pre-1906 rights in stream surface diversions. In a developing process, the 'Council' would unilaterally form a state wide water banking agreement for the Rio Grande. The ISC [Interstate Stream Commission] can now work within the laws of New Mexico rather than having to continually invent administrative law.
"Local community rights working together and organized by hydrologically defined zones through local regions up and down the Rio Grande would identify and adjudicate all pre- and post-1906 rights and begin a negotiation process amongst the local claimants to come to an agreement of a local inventory of surface flow as well as subsurface rights. Then the surface flow diversion and auxiliary rights would be determined for the entire Rio Grande. Starting with all surface claims pre-1906, and through a claims based court process, we can now do the seemingly impossible &endash; adjudicate the Rio Grande and bring together in common cause both the pre- and post-water rights claimants to establish a 'Rio Grande Water Authority'. This Authority will concentrate once again the local due process controls of local water supplies to be managed by the people, through the proposed Rio Grande Water Council. And with my cooperation, the State would have the upper hand to make the needed changes.
"With cooperation within the state and local communities, I am willing to transfer my families' rights upon a reasonable settlement with the State of New Mexico at Elephant Butte to achieve the end goal. Together, we can bring unification to the now fragmented regions through a state control management of the Rio Grande as a whole river system."
This may all sound like pie-in-the-sky rhetoric, but in many ways it's a distillation of the thinking by acequia and agriculture advocates who have long opposed many of the state-proposed water settlements, particularly the Aamodt, and who have long objected to water transfers that take water out of its area of origin, primarily in rural, agricultural areas, and move it to our growing cities, which own junior water rights. So giving Boyd some attention, which the mainstream media has failed to do, is also giving voice to many of us who also view the state's management of our water as inequitable and unsustainable.
By Malcolm Ebright
After the onslaught of land loss within our land grants, water rights in our acequias, and the threat of development of oil and gas drilling in our communities, many of us are looking for a way to protect and preserve what is left. For the last two and a half years the communities of Guadalupita, Lucero, and Coyote have been working on an application for a historic district that would cover over 8,100 acres, provide some protection from these onslaughts, and encourage a sense of the richness of the history of this place. On Friday, August 13, the Cultural Properties Review Committee considered this application and by the time this article is published the Guadalupita/ Coyote Historic District may be a reality.
A view of Guadalupita in 1945, looking much the same as it does today
Spearheaded by a research team from the Center for Land Grant Studies in Coyote, the community has pulled together a body of research into early land grant records, censuses, old photographs, and oral history from the community that has been distilled into the application. The community hopes to continue this search into its past, gathering up old photographs and memories. Once the district is listed on the State Register of Cultural Properties, the community will continue its quiet rural lifestyle. This writer was recently quoted in the New Mexican (Tuesday, August 3, 2010): "We just have to hope it doesn't get too much recognition. We want it to be preserved and keep it a secret a little bit."
The nominated Historic District is the primary area of settlement of the Guadalupita Land Grant and an intact representation of a mid-19th century land grant community, containing all the natural and agricultural resources necessary for the survival of its residents. The District is unique in its off-the-beaten-track location, which has meant that the landscape, buildings, fence lines, and families have changed very little over the past 150 years. The historic remoteness of the Guadalupita area is signaled by the following facts: electricity did not arrive in Guadalupita until the mid-1950s, telephones came in the mid-1960s, and the road from Mora to Guadalupita was not paved until the late 1960s. The cohesiveness of the Historic District is somewhat rare in the modern world.
When the early settlers migrated into the Guadalupita and Coyote valleys of the Rio Coyote they brought with them a traditional building style that used the materials available to settlers on the northern New Mexican frontier. They built their houses, churches, penitente moradas, and stores out of the same materials: adobes or logs, vigas, latillas, and flat dirt roofs, until the railroad brought the corrugated metal roofing that is almost universally used today. Examples of these structures are still standing and are among the important resources the community hopes to preserve.
The 1860 Guadalupita Census is the first census to locate the initial Guadalupita settlers within the Guadalupita/Coyote Historic District. It enumerates 185 families containing about 830 people living in two areas, with the Guadalupita plaza, the church of Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe, and the old cemetery forming the core community of the first area, and additional settlers in small ranchos strung along the Rio Coyote from Coyote Arriba to Coyote Abajo (today's Lucero).
The families identified in the 1860 census were a diverse group of people, mostly farmers and farm laborers, but also included a tailor, a teamster, a merchant, two carpenters, a hunter, a cooper, a fiddler, and a distiller. The 1860 Census provides a snapshot of the first phase of the development of the integrated land grant community that thrived within the Guadalupita/Coyote Historic District. Even before the 1860 census was taken, Ceran St. Vrain had established a steam distillery at Guadalupita and was offering "3000 gallons of pure corn whiskey . . . made of good sound corn, and free from all the impurities so much used in this country" at 75 cents per gallon. It is highly likely that some of the farmers in the 1860 Guadalupita census, all the way from Lucero on the south, to Guadalupita on the north, were growing "good sound" corn to sell to St. Vrain to make whiskey as well as wheat to make bread for the soldiers at Fort Union.
Farming continued to be the primary occupation of residents of Guadalupita and Upper and Lower Coyote until the late 1800s. The area was known as the breadbasket of the West during this period. By 1891, however, with the closing of Fort Union, small farmers such as those who predominated in the villages within the Guadalupita Historic District lost their greatest source of revenue from the sale of farm products. The growth of mercantile houses in Las Vegas such as Gross, Kelly, and Ilfeld's helped provide some income to farmers but never in the large quantity that had been furnished by Fort Union.
Designation as a historic district does not limit property owners in the use of their property, and if they spend money on an approved remodeling project in keeping with the historical character of the structure they may be eligible for a tax credit. Among the other benefits is the rich history and cultural heritage being unearthed as we continue to research the history of the District.
Copyright 1996-2010 La Jicarita Box 6 El Valle Route, Chamisal, New Mexico 87521.