Mid-Columbians soon could have access to the summit of Rattlesnake Mountain with the unanimous passage of a bill in the U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday opening the mountain to the public.
The bill was introduced in August by Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., who has argued the mountain -- which is part of the Hanford Reach National Monument -- belongs to the American people and should be open for public visits.
"The 3,600-foot summit of Rattlesnake holds one of the best views of central Washington and the Columbia River, but has been closed to the public," Hastings said in a statement.
The eastern slope of Rattlesnake has been closed to the public -- other than occasional, limited tours -- since the federal government took it by eminent domain in 1943 as a buffer for the Manhattan Project work at Hanford, while much of the western slope remains private ranch property, according to a GOP summary of the bill.
The mountain was not contaminated by Hanford production.
The bill would require the Secretary of the Interior to providepublic access to the mountain's summit for educational, recreational, scientific, historical, cultural and other purposes, including vehicle and pedestrian access.
A steep and narrow road currently leads to the top of the mountain, and the bill would require the Secretary of the Interior to enter into cooperative agreements with other government agencies to maintain the road.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has worked on public access to the mountain for many years, but it has taken longer than planned as officials tried to find a balance between public access and American Indian tribes that consider the mountain sacred.
Hastings introduced the legislation after accusing the Fish and Wildlife Service of dragging its feet on the access issue.
Hastings had the backing of the Tri-City Development Council, Benton County commissioners, Tri-City Regional Chamber of Commerce, Tri-Cities Visitors and Convention Bureau and the Back Country Horsemen of Washington in his efforts to open the mountain.
The bill next goes to the Senate for consideration.