White Sands Test Facility
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) White Sands Test Facility (WSTF, “the Site”) has supported testing of space flight equipment and hazardous materials for nearly 50 years. Past activities included developing, qualifying, refurbishing, and testing spacecraft propulsion systems, subsystems, and ground support equipment; investigating flight hardware anomalies; testing materials and components; and performing hazard and failure analyses. The Site currently includes propulsion testing facilities for rocket systems; materials and components laboratories for testing the quality of space flight materials; and technical services offices that provide expertise for developing ground support equipment. As a result of Site operations, hazardous substances, including volatile organic compounds, were disposed of and released to the environment at the Site, and have contributed to the contamination of groundwater and possibly other natural resources.
The Site is located in Doña Ana County approximately 18 miles northeast of the town of Las Cruces, New Mexico.
State of New Mexico
In accordance with the Natural Resource Damage Assessment regulations at 43 CFR Part 11, the State of New Mexico has prepared the Preassessment Screen Determination: White Sands Test Facility, issued a Notice of Intent to perform a natural resource damage assessment and has released a Draft WSTF Natural Resource Damage Assessment Plan.
Preassessment Screen Determination
As described in the Preassessment Screen Determination: White Sands Test Facility, operations at the Site released hazardous substances, including volatile organic compounds, that have contributed to the contamination of groundwater and possibly other natural resources for which the State is a Trustee. The State has concluded that the determination criteria identified in Natural Resource Damage Assessment Regulations, 43 CFR § 11.23(e), have been met for the Site and has initiated a Natural Resource Damage Assessment.
A Natural Resource Damage Assessment evaluates the impacts of releases of hazardous substances on natural resources and the services provided by those resources. Unlike the ongoing environmental remediation process, which focuses on removal or containment of contaminants that pose a threat to human health and the environment, the Natural Resource Damage Assessment process focuses on the restoration of resources and their services to the condition they would have been in, absent the release of the hazardous substances.
ONRT announced the release of the Draft White Sands Test Facility Natural Resource Damage Assessment Plan (Draft Plan). The Draft Plan represents the State’s current understanding of the activities that may be necessary to identify and quantify natural resource injuries resulting from the release of hazardous substances from the White Sands Test Facility, and to determine the appropriate scale and scope of restoration compensation. Inclusion of an activity within the Draft Plan does not guarantee that it will be undertaken, and efforts and analyses not included within the Draft Plan may be deemed necessary at a later date. As such, the Draft Plan is not intended to limit the studies that may be undertaken in the course of the assessment, but to provide a framework within which the Trustee will prioritize efforts and implement the Natural Resource Damage Assessment.
Public review and feedback on the Draft Plan is an important component of the Natural Resource Damage Assessment process. The public comment period was open for 30 days. In addition, the New Mexico Office of Natural Resources Trustee hosted a public meeting on December 14, 2016 which provided the public an opportunity to offer written comments and ask questions about the Plan.