Our Voice: Murray, Cantwell need to sponsor legislation to open Rattlesnake Mountain

June 16, 2013 

There are times when silence is extremely irritating.

In the case of allowing public access to the summit of Rattlesnake Mountain, the quiet stillness of our senators is disturbing.

Legislation allowing the public limited access to the highest point in the Mid-Columbia recently was approved in the House by a unanimous vote.

Yes, that's right, a unanimous vote.

But it has yet to find a sponsor in the Senate. If Sens. Patty Murray or Maria Cantwell don't step up, this bill is sure to follow the same fate as similar legislation in 2011. Back then, the issue also was approved by the U.S. House, but then died because it failed to reach a vote in the Senate.

Rep. Doc Hastings has been doing his best to create a compromise that would protect the natural resources and cultural history of Rattlesnake, while making the site more available to the public.

But he can't do it by himself. Getting a unanimous vote in the House is admirable, but he needs cooperation from the Senate.

Public access has been forbidden for years because Rattlesnake Mountain was included in the security zone around Hanford in World War II.

In 2000, it was included in the Hanford Reach National Monument, but it is part of the monument that remains closed to the public.

It's a shame because one of the best views in the Mid-Columbia is on top of the Rattlesnake summit.

Recently, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which operates the site, has offered a few wild-flower tours. The tours only accommodate 20 people at a time and have been immensely popular, completely booked within 41 seconds of being opened to the public.

That's a pretty good indication people are interested in spending time on Rattlesnake.

One of the hurdles in allowing public access is that Northwest tribes are opposed to the idea, believing the ground to be sacred.

However, our political representatives are elected to work things out. Surely there can be some way to accommodate the tribes and the public in this issue.

That's all Hastings' bill is really asking.

The legislation would require the secretary of the interior to provide reasonable public access to the mountain's summit for educational, recreational, historical, scientific and cultural purposes.

It doesn't dictate how and when the public would have access, only that some kind of compromise be reached. Allowing some public access to Rattlesnake Mountain makes sense. It is public land, after all.

If the House can approve this legislation unanimously, it deserves to have a sponsor in the Senate who can at least give the bill a chance.

The House did its job. Now it's the Senate's turn.

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