Wyoming senator questions if Hanford B Reactor park is prudent

By Annette Cary, Tri-City HeraldApril 23, 2013 

A Wyoming senator asked Tuesday if adding more national parks, including one to include Hanford's B Reactor, is prudent given the maintenance backlog at existing parks.

A bill to create a Manhattan Project National Historical Park had its first Senate hearing this session, coming before the National Parks Subcommittee of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on Tuesday.

The National Park Service already has an $11 billion maintenance backlog, and parks, including Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, have had to delay opening this spring, said Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo.

Adding new parks increases liability, he said.

All the legislation being considered by the subcommittee has been generated by community support, responded subcommittee Chairman Mark Udall, D-Colo.

"With the economic benefit that comes to a community, a national park is an investment in the community," said Peggy O'Dell, deputy director for Park Service operations.

Visitors to Yellowstone spend about $335 million annually and support almost 5,000 jobs, according to the park service.

Supporters of making Hanford's B Reactor part of a new national park said that would increase tourism spending in the Tri-Cities, also.

Limited tours of B Reactor bring about $1.5 million into the Tri-City economy annually, said Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., who released information after the hearing.

Visitors could increase 10- or 15-fold in the first year a national park is created, the park service has told DOE.

The annual cost of a new national park, which would include Manhattan Project facilities at Oak Ridge., Tenn., and Los Alamos, N.M., in addition to Hanford, would be $2.45 million to $4 million, according to written testimony submitted by O'Dell.

If the park is not created, tens of millions of dollars would be spent to tear down DOE-owned facilities, Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., has said.

Last year, the House voted on a similar bill under a suspension of the rules, but it failed to get a required two-thirds vote of approval. Those opposed included representatives who objected to the financial obligations of a new national park and representatives concerned the project would glorify the Manhattan Project, which produced the two atomic bombs dropped on Japan at the end of World War II.

If not considered under a suspension of the rules, the bill would require a simple majority to pass, and Hastings believes it has that support.

"Designating the B Reactor as a National Historical Park would expand visitor access and preserve a key site in our nation's history," Cantwell said in a statement after the hearing. "I am encouraged by today's discussion in support of the bill and look forward to moving forward towards a committee vote."

The bill next needs a vote of approval from the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee during a business meeting before going to the full Senate for consideration.

The House Committee on Natural Resources will hold a markup Wednesday on the House legislation to create a Manhattan Project National Park, according to the Atomic Heritage Foundation.

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