TRIDEC concerned about DOE land-transfer rules

By Annette Cary, Tri-City HeraldDecember 3, 2013 

The Department of Energy is throwing up roadblocks to the efficient transfer of excess land at Hanford and other nuclear weapons sites with new regulations, according to the Energy Communities Alliance and the Tri-City Development Council.

"DOE is releasing regulations that negatively impact communities," said the Energy Communities Alliance in a letter this week to Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz. The alliance includes the Hanford Communities, a coalition of Hanford-area local governments.

DOE disagrees, saying the changes are meant to clarify existing regulations.

TRIDEC is concerned because it is waiting for a decision on a request for about 1,600 acres of Hanford land, most of it proposed for green manufacturing or energy production just north of Richland. The land, like much of the 586-square-mile nuclear reservation, was not used directly for Hanford's mission of weapons plutonium production.

As portions of environmental cleanup at Hanford are finished and the work force reduced, the industrial use of the land could create a couple of thousand jobs, preferably high-tech jobs, to help replace those lost at Hanford.

TRIDEC, designated by the federal government as a community reuse organization for Hanford, made the request in cooperation with local governments two and a half years ago and anticipates a final decision could take another year, said Gary Petersen, TRIDEC vice president of Hanford programs.

The new regulations, issued as a final rule to modify and replace an interim rule from 2000, take effect Dec. 13.

The changes were limited to revisions to clarify regulations, and DOE and the Office of Management and Budget believe that no additional public notice or opportunity for public comment was required, said Steven Thai, a DOE spokesman in Washington, D.C. Public comment was accepted after the interim rule was proposed 13 years ago.

The changes will apply only to proposals for land transfers made after the final rule takes effect later this month, he said.

However, TRIDEC is skeptical. It's not clear that earlier proposals would be grandfathered in under the interim rule requirements, Petersen said, and TRIDEC also has concerns about how the changes would affect possible additional requests for land in future years.

The Hanford Comprehensive Land Use Plan proposes saving about 90 percent of Hanford land for conservation and preservation as environmental cleanup is completed. That leaves tens of thousands of acres designated for industrial development, some of which TRIDEC could propose uses for in future years.

It's imperative that DOE act on land transfer requests from local communities more quickly so they can create new opportunities, according to the Energy Communities Alliance letter. But the changed regulations will diminish DOE's ability to make land transfers in a timely manner, it said.

Eliminating a 90-day deadline for DOE to make an initial response to land transfer requests from local government and community reuse organizations and removing indemnification protections from communities are among the alliance's concerns. The new rules also attempt to clarify which land could be transferred, a change that does not appear to affect Hanford.

But TRIDEC is concerned that it may have to provide information to DOE about the specific use of transferred property, even though DOE has not yet said exactly what land would be available. It also has concerns about keeping a specific company interested in using the land without a definite time frame from DOE about when land would be available.

TRIDEC has given DOE general parameters for how it would use 1,341 acres of land near Richland, which it proposed dividing into a large site for one or two enterprises providing 2,000 to 3,000 jobs combined and three smaller sites that would support another 400 to 500 jobs. That land would not be used for agricultural or to operate a small modular nuclear reactor, Petersen said.

A 300-acre parcel requested near Energy Northwest would be used for a clean energy park.

Petersen also is concerned that some DOE officials appear determined to obtain the maximum appraised value for DOE land, which was not Congress's intent in allowing the land to be transferred for the economic development of communities affected by the downsizing of DOE projects, he said.

TRIDEC and the Energy Communities Alliance said local communities should have been given a chance to comment on changes to the regulations.

"There is no impact to DOE to delay the effective date of the regulation and seek public comment," said the alliance letter.

w Annette Cary: 582-1533;; Twitter: @HanfordNews

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