RICHLAND — Proponents of the Hanford Reach Interpretive Center celebrated a victory Tuesday by clearing a significant milestone toward construction of the long-awaited museum.
The victory came in the form of an announcement from the Walla Walla District of the Army Corps of Engineers that it had approved a sublease between the Richland city government and the Richland Public Facilities District that will allow the $40.5 million museum to be built in the west end of Columbia Park.
In another important step, the Corps also announced completion of an environmental review and found the proposed project is in compliance with federal environmental laws.
"This is such a big moment for the project," said Joel Rogo, vice president of the Public Facilities District Board, which oversees the museum's development.
"Though it's not the last hurdle, it was certainly one of the biggest," Rogo said. "Everyone has been working very hard to make this happen, and we're all very proud and relieved."
Reach officials said the announcement clears the way for construction of the 61,000-square-foot interpretive center, which has been nine years in preparation and is intended to tell the story of Hanford's role in winning World War II and the Cold War, as well as the history, geology, flora and fauna of the region.
The area's Ice Age Floods history also would be featured.
It's been a long road for project proponents that included about a two-year detour after the district learned it wouldn't be able to build at its first-choice site at the confluence of the Columbia and Yakima rivers.
Objections by area tribes, coupled with strings attached to federal money, triggered an intensive review process that officials ultimately decided they couldn't overcome. That resulted in a decision to attempt to get permission from the Corps of Engineers to build in the west end of Columbia Park.
Kimberly Camp, interpretive center CEO, said it was a relief to be able to move forward and focus on raising the rest of the money needed.
"Have been here three years and nine months telling people any day now," Camp said. "To finally be in control of this process is so liberating.
"I think that this is an opportunity for the people who thought the project would never happen to shift their energy into getting this community what it deserves in a quality interpretive center," Camp said. "It doesn't mean money's going to fall out of the sky. It's going to take every single person committed to this project to get this done."
More than $25 million has been raised, primarily from state and federal grants and large pledges. That leaves about $15 million to be raised. No public donation drive has yet been launched.
Project officials got another piece of good news Tuesday when they learned they may not lose $147,000 in state grant money due to expire if not used by June 30.
Camp said she learned that grant can be salvaged -- especially after clearing the milestones with the Corps.
"We're still in the running," she said.