The Department of Energy should resume annual Hanford State of the Site meetings, according to the Hanford Advisory Board.
The meetings have allowed members of the public -- and often Hanford retirees, workers and their families -- access to Hanford leaders to raise issues and ask questions.
The last State of the Site meeting was in spring 2011 and before that a meeting was held in 2008, according to Herald records.
Public meetings show decision makers what they should care about, said Steve Hudson of the Hanford Advisory Board, quoting former board Chairman Todd Martin, from a board meeting Thursday and Friday in Kennewick.
Never miss a local story.
The State of the Site meetings "create a unique environment, unlike the environment one typically finds during more formal public comment periods, for the discussion of Hanford cleanup issues," said a letter of advice sent by the board to DOE and its regulators.
The less formal atmosphere of the State of the Site meetings helps establish a healthy working relationship among DOE and its regulators, the Environmental Protection Agency and the state of Washington, improving understanding when they have formal comment periods and hearings on specific projects, the letter said.
Since a State of the Site meeting has not been held for more than a year, DOE, EPA and the state should start planning for a 2013 meeting as soon as possible, the letter said.
At past State of the Site meetings, a range of topics have been brought up by the public. They include questions about environmental cleanup of the Hanford nuclear reservation and opinions on priorities for cleanup and protection of workers and the public. Hanford produced plutonium for the nation's nuclear weapons program from World War II through the Cold War.
In fall 2009, Hanford employees were invited to nonpublic meetings with top Hanford management after significant numbers of employees attended earlier Hanford State of the Site meetings to raise workplace issues, including concerns about hazardous vapors from waste tanks, exposure to beryllium, pension changes and layoff rumors.
Efforts have been redoubled since then to make sure contractors are communicating well with employees, said DOE spokesman Cameron Hardy.
At the Hanford Advisory Board meeting, Washington State Department of Ecology spokesman Dieter Bohrmann said the state has supported the State of the Site meetings. But the meetings require a significant commitment of resources, he said.
Typically State of the Site meetings are held in the Tri-Cities plus other Washington and Oregon cities.
The Environmental Protection Agency has found the State of the Site meetings beneficial, said Dennis Faulk, EPA Hanford program manager.
The State of the Site meetings are one tool in the toolbox, but not the only one, Hardy said.
"We are guided by regulations. They require public input, and we are reaching out throughout the year," he said.
It's important to reach out to the public on decisions DOE has to make, he said.
Although no State of the Site was held in 2010, hearings were held around the region on a comprehensive document, the Draft Tank Closure and Waste Management Environmental Impact Statement, which addresses many of the important environmental cleanup decisions that must be made about Hanford.
Public meetings on annual budgets, changes to the legally binding Tri-Party Agreement and other cleanup decisions also have been held in recent years, including a meeting on a proposal to run a natural gas pipeline under the Columbia River to supply natural gas to the Hanford vitrification plant.
-- Annette Cary: 582-1533; firstname.lastname@example.org