The Department of Energy is re-bidding its management contract for the Savannah River Site, opening the opportunity to manage the multi-billion dollar site to a host of interested firms.
While the board of directors of the SRS Community Reuse Organization applauds competition as a good thing, it is disappointed that the Energy department has failed to emphasize the new contractor's role in encouraging local economic development. In fact, the department's draft Request for Proposals is shockingly weak in its focus on technology transfer and enhancing the community ability to expand our economy.
The SRS Community Reuse Organization has communicated its concerns to the Energy department and our congressional delegation, but every resident of the region needs to understand what is at stake - and to speak out about the need for strong contractor participation in our future economy.
Most people aren't aware that our community has suffered by having the Energy department's Environmental Management division as the "landlord" for the site. According to the division, they are prohibited by law from funding any local economic development activities. Divisions that run other Energy department sites in Idaho, Nevada and Tennessee apparently have no such restrictions.
In the past, local Energy department officials have encouraged contractor involvement in economic development programs and reimbursed the contractor for money spent in pursuit of business expansion and new jobs. With Environmental Management at the helm, those days appear to be over. It is focused on cleaning up and closing most of the sites it oversees.
Despite extensive decommissioning and cleanup, SRS remains an open site with enduring missions and is likely to continue to operate in some fashion for decades to come.
Although site preparation is under way, construction has yet to start for new projects like the Mixed Oxide Fuel facility. While we continue to wait on these new missions, local Energy department management insists that, when it comes to promoting economic development with directives and dollars, its hands are tied by department policy and federal legislation.
We deserve better treatment from the department in promoting economic development. Regardless of which part of the department is landlord for SRS, our region deserves equally aggressive support from the federal government because of the service and support we have provided.
In contrast to its puzzling silence, the Request for Proposals for the new management contract should set clear expectations for strong and effective economic development initiatives on the part of the contractor. The bidders' response should be a critical element in the selection process. The winning contractor should be evaluated annually, with a direct impact on fee earned, based on how effectively they perform in transferring technology to expand the regional economy.
The SRS Community Reuse Organization has recommended that the new contractor devote a portion of its multi-million dollar gross fee each year to economic development activities. The Energy department has acted wisely in its recent decision to nearly double the fee available, giving the successful bidder a greater opportunity and incentive to invest in the economic growth for our region.
Our concern is compounded by the seemingly endless debate over Yucca Mountain, the federal government's ultimate repository for nuclear waste. As a community, we are disappointed that Yucca Mountain remains mired in controversy and that its completion schedule continues to slip. We do not want SRS to become a de facto permanent storage facility if Yucca Mountain never opens.
As has been the case for more than 50 years, SRS presents our community with challenges and opportunities. Surely, Congress and the Energy department can work together to have the SRS contract proactively encourage and assist in diversifying the regional economy.
Other Energy department contracts have embraced the notion that diversifying the regional economy will not only create new local jobs but improve the business environment for critical department missions as well.
SRS can benefit from the same approach.
Dr. Susan A. Winsor is chairwoman and W.R. "Rick" Toole is vice chairman of the SRS Community Reuse Organization. The entity, formerly known as the Savannah River Regional Diversification Initiative, is dedicated to promoting economic development initiatives in a five-county, two-state area of Georgia and South Carolina.
Business leaders and economic officials interested in participating in the In Your Words feature can contact Business Editor Damon Cline at (706) 823-3486.