AIKEN - The citizens group that monitors environmental issues at Savannah River Site will be managed by the Department of Energy after Oct. 1, a move that some say could damage its credibility.
Since its inception in 1994, the SRS Citizens Advisory Board has been run by the private contractor that operates the nuclear reservation, now called Washington Savannah River Co.
Keeping the advisory board independent of DOE has helped prevent any perception that the federal agency might try to influence the volunteer panel, Chairwoman Karen Patterson said.
"From the public's perspective, a citizen advisory board that has DOE people running it will not be viewed as independent as it has been in the past," she said Monday.
"Some of the public has expressed concerns that the DOE is turning us into a 'yes' board."
The advisory board includes volunteers from South Carolina and Georgia who scrutinize technical decisions at SRS, frequently asking tough questions and sometimes issuing opinions that are critical of DOE.
The federal agency has seven advisory boards across the country, Ms. Patterson said, and the one at SRS is the last to remain autonomous of the federal government.
DOE started managing other sites in 2003 and has said it is taking over the SRS group, at least in part, to create uniformity.
Advisory board members originally feared that DOE would replace all five of the panel's administrators. DOE has told members that it will keep two independent consultants on board and hire a separate company to do the rest, Ms. Patterson said.
If DOE had gotten rid of the entire management team, the advisory board would have lost institutional knowledge that helps the panel run smoothly, Ms. Patterson said.
"There's going to be so much change, if meetings remain familiar to us, that will be some sort of comfort zone for us," she said.
DOE spokeswoman Julie Petersen said the agency was prepared to make the change.
"DOE is confident in its ability to implement the best administration option available and to facilitate a seamless transition," she said in an e-mailed statement.
Reach Josh Gelinas at (803) 648-1395, ext. 110, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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