By Leonard Abbatiello
November 20, 2015
We are all jubilant about the recent creation of the Manhattan Project National Park, but unfortunately there will be little done until it is funded. But this newly created national park offers an unprecedented opportunity for the three Energy Cities to unify and solve the single largest problem that birthed them. All of these cities (Oak Ridge, Tennessee; Hanford, Washington; and Los Alamos, New Mexico) are impacted by large tracts of federally owned property and the presence of ongoing U.S. Department of Energy operations. Let’s team to provide DOE with an internal mechanism to better service these DOE impacted communities!
Manhattan Project National Park: Our once-in-a-lifetime opportunity
We have been handed a win-win-win opportunity of a lifetime! Congress has recently created an atomic history national park, which is to preserve and honor the atomic history in the three Energy Cities. The cities that created the atomic bomb and made nuclear energy available to the world!
The three energy communities are to each host a national park complex. But there is a fly in the ointment! The national park has been created without any funding to accomplish its objectives! Future federal budgets have zeroed out all funding for this national park complex. Without money, nothing will happen!
DOE is expected to provide all funding of these Manhattan Project National Park needs! This gives Oak Ridge the opportunity to create a unified “Energy Cities Team” team to encourage DOE to create a new “Division of Community Assistance,” which would oversee the dispersal of all community or public service project funding for: 1) the national park system, 2) community PILTs (payments in lieu of taxes), 3) AMSE (American Museum of Science and Energy) and recreational commitments (Carbide Park, etc.), and 4) community grants, etc.
It could all be funded by a small DOE “internal tax” on each and every science and production program that DOE supports in these cities. DOE is a $33 billion-plus annual operation, and it currently has no way of either funding or centrally managing the multitude of community assistance, national park, recreational/museum, self-sufficiency projects, and grants that it funds in all three of the energy communities. A small internal DOE “project tax” of less than one-half of 1 percent could easily fund all of the current and proposed DOE community/public efforts while a central DOE division would be charged with managing all of these community assistance/funding efforts efficiently. This would provide a single point of contact for the communities and allow DOE to efficiently manage all of these community/public assistance efforts.
The potential for Oak Ridge is enormous! But only if DOE begins to pay its fair share of operations! It might be possible to even greatly reduce or nearly eliminate property taxes. Additionally, if other major cost reductions were implemented, property taxes could be completely eliminated and Oak Ridges’ financial future assured! If existing land, coupled with better-than-competitive costs, were used to attract new major industrial businesses, our housing growth would blossom!
My wish is that we pursue this win-win-win opportunity that the unfunded Manhattan National Park creation now presents. We would need to “team” with the other Energy Cities, to engage both them and their congressional delegations. This could result in a joint effort resulting in a lobbying effort asking Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz to create this interface point called the “DOE Division of Community Assistance,” which could handle all National Park funding, grants, community PILTS, etc. Then we would have a central point through which we might request review of the basis of our Oak Ridge PILT payments, the AMSE, and the Carbide Park, and other local assistance commitments. It helps everyone if we should be successful in creating a central management/financial organization.
This budget shortfall is an opportunity for us to make this a win-win-win for all! It helps DOE, the Energy Cities, the National Park Service, and the U.S. Congress by helping DOE to create one central, efficient financial management system that provides a way for DOE to begin to pay its fair share. Everyone wins! Let’s help DOE solve their growing community problem as we help ourselves. This corrects the single greatest shortfall of the AECA of 1955, which gave birth to the City of Oak Ridge and our sister energy cities.
You, our seven City Council members, are the only individuals who can direct any effort to improve the financial future of Oak Ridge and our relationship with DOE. You have the opportunity to define a bright competitive future, or do nothing. Four of you can really make a difference! What is your choice?
Leonard Abbatiello is a former Oak Ridge City Council member.
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