The summit of Rattlesnake Mountain would be open to the public under legislation introduced by Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash.
He introduced identical legislation in May 2010, which failed to advance to a House committee for consideration.
But this time he is introducing the bill as chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, the committee that will consider the legislation.
The public has not been allowed routine access to the top of the 3,600-foot-elevation mountain, the highest point in the Mid-Columbia, since the Hanford nuclear reservation was formed during World War II.
"As I have said before, people are permitted to scale the top of Mount Rainier, and they should be allowed to the summit of Rattlesnake Mountain," Hastings said in a statement.
Now the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service prohibits public access to the top of Rattlesnake Mountain. Much of the mountain is part of the security perimeter around Hanford and was included in the Hanford Reach National Monument formed in 2000 and managed by Fish and Wildlife.
A 15-year management plan for the monument approved in 2008 keeps most of the Rattlesnake Mountain area off limits. Concerns include the steep and deteriorating one-lane road to the top that was constructed for military access during the Cold War.
In addition, Fish and Wildlife also is concerned about protecting the top of the mountain. Winds blow up to 100 mph there and only a thin layer of soil covers the rock, but plants grow there that have adapted to the ecosystem.
The mountain top also is historically and culturally important to area tribes, and the Department of Energy has had most of the structures on top of the mountain removed since 2008.
However, Hastings said that the entire Hanford Reach National Monument is best seen by the sweeping view from the top of the mountain.
"Since the public owns these lands, everyone should have access to them and the opportunity to enjoy the sights from the summit of Rattlesnake Mountain," he said.
His bill, The Rattlesnake Mountain Public Access Act, does not dictate how and when public access occurs, but does mandate that access be permitted.
It would require the secretary of the interior to provide access to the summit for education, recreational, historical, scientific, cultural and other purposes. Access would be by motor vehicle, on foot and other nonmotorized transportation, such as bicycles.
The bill would allow the interior secretary to enter into agreements with state and local government and other entities for purposes such as organizing and leading tours. It also would allow cooperative agreements for maintenance of an access road to the summit.
The legislation is particularly important after the events of last fall, Hastings said. Then Fish and Wildlife announced it would allow two public tours, but canceled them five days before they would have occurred.
The agency said then that it had learned it needed to comply with the National Historic Preservation Act, including consulting with the tribes and coordinating with the State Historic Preservation Office, even though the tours were addressed in the monument's management plan.
-- Annette Cary: 582-1533; firstname.lastname@example.org