The Hanford Reach Interpretive Center project might be getting about 700,000 unexpected dollars soon to help build a new road and to do utility work at the site selected in the west end of Columbia Park.
Pete Rogalsky, public works director, told Richland City Council members Tuesday that the money was left over after being unspent at the previous site at the south end of Columbia Point, which was the first choice for the project.
Rogalsky said the federal government is allowing the Washington Department of Transportation to "realign unspent and unallocated" money in the jurisdiction where the money was originally intended to be used.
There is $200,000 available for the south end of Columbia Point and another $500,000 that was contracted for but not spent, Rogalsky explained.
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The Columbia Point south plan fell apart in 2009 when it became clear that project supporters wouldn't be able to overcome rigorous federal permitting requirements because the land is considered sacred to Native American tribes in the region.
Councilman Robert Thompson said he wasn't ready to put all the money toward the Reach project without knowing if there could be other uses for the $700,000 that would better serve the city.
"Is this the highest need today for that amount of money? The Reach may be the way to go. I just don't know," he said.
But Rogalsky said the goal is to put the dollars to use quickly for a shovel-ready project, which is what the Reach offers.
"We have to get this through the funding process before the year's end and we have a week to make a decision," he said.
Taking time to consider options could send a wrong message to the transportation officials, who can decide to assign the money somewhere else in the state, he explained.
"So you're telling us we have no other shovel-ready projects for $700,000?" Mayor John Fox asked.
Rogalsky said the Reach is his first choice, and spending the money to design a Duportail Street bridge over the Yakima River is his second.
Bill King, deputy city manager for community and development services, said the timing is what the Reach project needs.
"This will allow the Reach to use the Jones & Jones design as presented. It is what we need to do meet the timeframe," King said.
King noted that the $700,000 surprise will be revealed to and discussed by the Richland Public Facilities District board Thursday when its budget committee meets.
In a related matter, King said the facilities district board and city need to discuss amending the sublease agreement regarding the Reach site in Columbia Park.
King said the size of the project has been scaled back significantly, making it unnecessary to require the facilities district to hold as much money in reserve for contingencies as originally requested.
"The (facilities district) has asked us to scale back our numbers. This will make more money available for the project," King said.
The contingencies reserve is because the city ultimately is responsible for what is developed at the site on Army Corps of Engineers land along the river.
King said the $1 million contingency fund will protect the city. If the Reach project runs into trouble, the money will help rescue the project, or help convert facilities to alternate use, or, in the worst case scenario, tear them down.
The facilities district also will be in technical default with the city over the Reach project site by the end of September, King said.
He recommends a five- to six-month extension on the default to give the facilities district time to get the Reach project moving.
Fox called the suggestion reasonable.
Councilman Dave Rose said the council wants the project to succeed.
"A lot of people see these requirements as handcuffing the PFD, but we're doing as much as we can to support them," Rose said.
Also Tuesday, there were about 120 people jammed into a standing room-only council chambers, hoping to address the council about a proposed 44-unit condominium project along Meadow Hills Drive. The result of the discussion before the council was unknown at 10:30 p.m.
The proposed project also is the subject of the Richland Planning Commission at tonight's 7 p.m. meeting at city hall. A decision is expected, but no testimony will be allowed.