Hanford Advisory Board members say better public outreach may answer DOE concerns

By Annette Cary, Tri-City HeraldFebruary 12, 2013 

Better outreach to the public may be the key to resolving concerns of Department of Energy officials in Washington, D.C., about the diversity of the Hanford Advisory Board, some members said Friday.

For the third time since 2000, DOE headquarters officials pushed to change the composition of the board in 2012.

The citizen board advises DOE and its regulators, the Washington State Department of Ecology and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, on environmental cleanup of the massively contaminated Hanford nuclear reservation, where plutonium was produced for the nation's nuclear weapons program. That means questioning government policy and taking stands that sometimes are at odds with DOE.

Some federal officials believe some turnover on the board is needed, and ethnic, racial and gender diversity can benefit boards, said Cate Alexander, the designated federal officer for DOE's eight Environmental Management Site Specific Advisory Boards, in September. Term limits for some board members have been proposed, which would allow new board members to be picked to provide more diversity, according to DOE officials.

However, the board asked DOE to let it solve issues itself, rather than having changes imposed from Washington, D.C. In November, David Huizenga, senior adviser for DOE's Office of Environmental Management, agreed.

"The board was designed for a diversity of opinions," said Susan Leckband, who represents the Washington League of Women Voters on the board, as the board began discussing possible solutions Friday.

When it was formed 19 years ago, its 32 seats were assigned to represent different interests and organizations rather than having individuals appointed. Organizations represent diverse groups of people, including tribes, civic groups, environmental groups, local business interests, local governments, unions and universities. They each pick their own representatives to the board.

The board then works to reach consensus on issues, providing "advice" to DOE agreed upon by organizations with widely different opinions and interests related to environmental cleanup of Hanford.

"Rich public involvement stimulates diversity," said Mike Korenko, who represents the public at large on the board.

The board has been successful in retaining older members. They have time to devote to day-long meetings and often many years or decades of knowledge about Hanford, helping them follow discussions on a wide range of often complex and sometimes technical cleanup issues at the 586-square-mile nuclear reservation.

Board members may need to mentor people in their organization to bring them up to speed in preparation for future openings on the board, Leckband said.

To interest more people in Hanford cleanup, meetings need to be held in places other than the Tri-Cities, said Paige Knight, who represents Portland-based Hanford Watch on the board. Tight budgets have ended the board's practice of meeting twice a year in different places in the Northwest with public interest sessions in the evening in conjunction with the board meetings.

But even when public hearings are held in Portland, it's difficult to draw a diverse crowd based on race and economic class because people have more pressing worries than Hanford, she said.

Other suggestions included holding board meetings from 1 to 8 p.m. to allow more people to attend after work and inviting high school or college students to attend committee meetings, where in depth information is provided on issues.

Rather than trying to figure out how to engage high school or college students in the board's business, the board should consider asking students to design a communication plan to reach young people, Korenko said.

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