Working Paper 93-3, July 20, 1993(1)

By Janine Wilson

Communications Director, Rocky Flats Plant

(1) This paper is an edited transcript of a talk given by Janine Wilson for the Intractable Conflict/Constructive Confrontation Project on February 18, 1993. Funding for this Project was provided by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and the University of Colorado. All ideas presented are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the Consortium, the University, or Hewlett Foundation. For more information, contact the Conflict Resolution Consortium, Campus Box 327, University of Colorado, Boulder, Colorado 80309-0327. Phone: (303) 492-1635, e-mail:

© 1993. Conflict Resolution Consortium. Do not reprint without permission.

I've been with EG & G, the current contractor at Rocky Flats1 for ten years. All of my time there, in some fashion, has been in public relations and conflict resolution. Initially, I was the Communications Director at the Idaho National Engineering Laboratory. That is a controversial facility, but it is much less controversial than Rocky Flats. You may recall the FBI raid on Rocky Flats in June of 1989. That event, in my mind, is the single event that took away Rocky's credibility--if there was any at all. In October of 1989 I was sitting at my job in Idaho when the New York Times called me and said, "Janine, I just heard that EG& G is moving out to Rocky." I said, "Gosh Matt, I haven't heard that. You'll have to call our corporate offices in Boston." I couldn't imagine that any government contractor would walk into the Flats.

Well, the following day, I got a call asking me if I would come down to Rocky to assess their current public relations department and write up a quick two or three page report on what they needed to do first, second, and third and then go back to my job in Idaho. I did that.

What I found was there really was no communications department. There were three people at Rocky, where I now have thirty people doing about the same things. There was no community relations plan. There were public meetings, if you could call them that, that I attended while I was there, and they were absolute free-for-alls. There was no dialogue at all. The DOE people or contracted personnel sat up front and made a presentation. Then they would sit down and members of the activist community would stand up and scream. They'd call the DOE people and contractors "Nazis" and "liars."

I returned to Idaho Falls and contemplated the offer that I had been given to move here [to Rocky]. I got a lot of advice saying "don't move." A lot of people felt it would be very detrimental to my career to be associated with Rocky Flats--certainly in the communications capacity. But I decided they were wrong. The playing field at Rocky Flats was about 10 times larger than Idaho National Engineering Laboratory and I thought it would be very good experience. So I took it.

I arrived here on January 1, 1990. The Buffs were playing Notre Dame in the Orange Bowl, I checked into the Boulderado Hotel, I didn't know a soul in town, and my room wasn't quite ready. They had all three newspapers laid out on the coffee table and all three headlines stated that Rocky Flats was the number one news story of 1989. I said, "Janine, this is the dumbest thing you have ever done. You should go back home where you belong."

But now I believe I have the best job in Colorado. I have learned more at the Flats than I could have anywhere, and thank goodness I did it. In one way it was easy, because they didn't have any programs in place, so almost anything would be perceived as better, and that made my job easier.

A lot of it was just public information. People call and want to know something. That's part of conflict resolution--which we do every day--between staff members, between activists or public interest groups, news media, or politicians.

In thinking about this presentation, I came up with four points that are important.

1) Get all the issues on the table. Understand that there are different personalities involved; study those personalities. They are part of the conflict, whether the people want them to be or

not--and whether they acknowledge them or not. Remember there are emotions and hidden agendas and there is fear of job loss.

2) Periodically step back and ask if the process you are involved in makes sense. Too often we get all wrapped up in what we are doing. We tend to think that this is the only way to hold a public meeting, but it's not. There are a lot of ways to do that. Don't assume that you have the recipe for public meetings because you've done a thousand of them. Every so often, reexamine your process.

I'll give you an example. We had 64 public meetings in 1991. That's a lot--that's more than one a week. At one point we thought it would be a good idea to change our format. Rather than have a bunch of technical presenters up front, we decided to have about a five minute pitch, and then break it up into small groups. People who were concerned about water issues could go over to the water expert, and people who were concerned about airborne particles could go over to the air expert.

Later, when we talked about it, we started calling that one the kumbaya meeting, because we thought it was kind of touchy-feely. I thought that no one was going to go for this--they want a large crowd, especially if the media is there, they don't want to be off in a corner talking to a technical expert. But it was a huge success, even though I thought it wouldn't work. So you have to keep stepping back from the process and asking yourself if the way you have been doing business is the right way to do it. 3) Work hard to establish credibility. Fifty percent of our ability to do our job depends on public credibility, and about fifty percent of the time we have to please the independent technical experts from Washington, D.C. (the Congressionally-appointed people). But fifty percent of the time we have to convince the public that what we are doing is the right thing. To do this, we need to understand and address the issues and needs of the community.

Some people may think things are still a disaster at Rocky, but we have had some success stories. We have come to terms with the activists in many cases, we have put everything on the table, we have talked to the public interest groups, and in a lot of cases, we have made a difference.

One example is the water project. Rocky Flats discharges water from Walnut Creek into Standley Lake which is, of course, the drinking water supply for about 250,000 people. The water discharged from Rocky Flats is cleaner than Denver drinking water, but the perception is that it is not. We agreed from a perception, not a technical, standpoint to build a drainage ditch around Standley Lake, and we did that in a pure conflict resolution, consensus-building process with the activist groups and all the citizens who were concerned about the water issue. That's the good news. The bad news is that we have eagles nesting over there, so the work on that project is temporarily questionable. We don't know what we are going to do.

Another example of such a process involved formulating the clean-up plan for Rocky as part of our Superfund designation. We have identified 16 operable units, 16 projects at the Flats that need to be cleaned up. The technical people and EPA prioritized them, using a consensus building process. We had the Operable Unit east of Indiana Avenue, identified as Operable Unit 10, meaning that it was the tenth in priority for clean-up. But the public was extremely concerned about the airborne particles associated with that unit, so we renegotiated Operable Unit 10 and moved it up the list to Operable Unit 3. This was not done from a safety standpoint, but because that is what the public wanted.

4) The public deserves information. For years Rocky Flats thought they didn't. But we've changed. It really helps when you have enormous support from management who also believe in these things. Bob Nelson is the manager of the Department of Energy and is about one of the top five individuals in the world. He meets all of the time with activists and news media--he will even go to their homes if he has to. He will bring them out to the Flats, and will take them into the buildings if they are concerned about something. When you have a leader like that, it certainly makes our job a lot easier.

The Flats was named a Superfund site in the middle of 1989. In January of 1990 I learned that one of the first things you are required to do is to create a Community Relations Plan. Not only had one not been started, they were going to sub-contract it out to people who had never even been at Rocky Flats, which I thought was huge mistake. I thought we were missing an opportunity to go out and say, "Hi, I'm so-and-so from Rocky Flats."

The purpose of this Community Relations Plan was to go out and meet with people. We met with 67 individuals or groups of individuals and told them that we were embarking on a massive clean-up effort at Rocky Flats, that it was going to take a long time, and that it was going to cost a lot of money. And we asked them questions.

We asked what their expectations were regarding clean-up, and how clean is clean, and how much work do you think we have to do before you, Mr. Newsmedia, or you, Mr. Landowner, are going to feel comfortable about the clean-up levels at Rocky Flats. We asked which agencies or groups of agencies they thought were more or less credible, where they got their information, did they trust us or the Colorado Department of Health, or EPA, or the Rocky Flats Monitoring Council. We asked how often they would like to hear from us and what format would be most useful. I'll leave the list of questions with you. [The Consortium has the Final Rocky Flats Plant Community Relations Plans for the Environmental Restoration Program and Final Responsiveness Summary for the Community Relations Plan on file in our office, for those who are interested.]

Some of these interviews were two hours long; some were eight. People were so excited to talk to someone from Rocky Flats, we just couldn't get away. They all had a lot to say; we came back and put it all in this plan.

I don't want to go through the whole thing, but these are some of the things they asked for and we agreed to. They wanted an administrative record of every clean-up activity going on at Rocky Flats. They wanted to be put on a mailing list and they wanted to start receiving information on a regular basis. They wanted more news releases. They said we only put out good news press releases. In 1989 there were only five press releases issued; in 1990 there were 94; last year there were 120; this year there will be 160. We send a press release out for good news and bad news. If we spill something we tell people about it. If someone gets elected to be president of the Bowling Association we announce it. In 1990 there were 17 days that we were not in the news media. We held a lot of public meetings. We gave the public an opportunity to comment on technical documents. We formed a technical review group and we prepared a response to their documents.

After we wrote the Community Relations Plan we released it and some people complained that we did not pay attention to what they had said, so we listened some more and at times negotiated solutions.

I'll give you an example. We have five public reading rooms where people have access to information. Several members of one interest group didn't think five were enough, probably because of their location. We have two downtown, two in Golden, and one in Westminster. In response to our Community Relations Plan, we got a request for additional reading rooms.

Obviously, these are expensive to maintain as we have billions of pieces of paper and we hire a librarian to run them for us. So we said, "No, but how about one in Boulder?" They said, "Ok." So we put one in the Boulder Public Library. However, it was too much work to expect the library to handle. So we went to Standley Lake Library in Arvada instead--but we did add one. That's an example of where we didn't come to consensus, we negotiated and arrived at one additional reading room which was acceptable to the group.

Other times they said we want a quarterly fact sheet. So we implemented a quarterly fact sheet. They wanted more press releases and wanted to receive them at the same time the media does. We said, "You got it." We have a community fax list and a community mailing list. When we send out press releases to the news media, we put the same release out to the community, using a rotary fax. It takes a few hours.

We offer a lot of public hearing opportunities, and we comply with all the public information requirements, which are a lot. We give technical assistance grants to special interests groups so that they can hire consultants to review the documents for them--that kind of thing. We give the Colorado Department of Health millions of dollars to set up the Rocky Flats program unit--they have a person on that plant site all the time. EPA is out there all the time. We responded to 2000 community information requests last year, mostly from school children. We do a number of fact sheets; we do progress reports, briefings, workshops; we have set up an 800-line for people to call in to; we do tours; we have a speakers bureau; and we talk and we talk and we talk.

I think we have a long way to go but those are some of the things we do.


1 Rocky Flats is a Department of Energy facility which, until recently, manufactured the plutonium triggers for nuclear weapons.