WASHINGTON -- Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, a key backer of forming a new national park that would include Hanford's historic B Reactor, an-nounced Wednesday that he's stepping down at the end of March.
Among names mentioned as a possible replacement is outgoing Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire, another advocate of saving the reactor and making it more accessible to the public.
Supporters of forming a new Manhattan Project National Historical Park that would include the reactor are working to get Congress to approve the park before Salazar leaves the Department of Interior.
The Tri-City Development Council believes that legislation could go forward before then, said Gary Petersen, TRIDEC vice president of Hanford programs.
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Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., has been an advocate as the House Natural Resources Committee chairman. His new counterpart as Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee chairman is Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Petersen said Wyden supports a historical park that includes B Reactor.
Salazar recommended to Congress in 2011 that a new national park be formed to commemorate the Manhattan Project, the top-secret effort to create an atomic bomb during World War II. In addition to B Reactor and possibly other Hanford historic buildings, facilities at Los Alamos, N.M., and Oak Ridge, Tenn., which also were part of the race to develop the atomic bomb, were included in the recommendation.
The recommendation was a turnaround from the National Park Service's previous stand. A draft study released in December 2009 by the park service concluded that only part of the Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory National Landmark District should be considered for a new national park.
The park service initially had concerns about safety, liability and ownership of the nuclear facilities.
But Salazar was willing to work with DOE to come up with a plan that would allow DOE to maintain ownership of facilities, such as B Reactor.
Under legislation proposed last year but not approved before the current Congressional session began, the Interior Department would enter into an agreement with the Department of Energy on the role of each in administering facilities, public access, management, interpretation and historic preservation.
Salazar toured B Reactor in September 2011 at Hastings' invitation, and Gregoire was among those who accompanied him.
Gregoire, whose term as Washington's governor ended Wednesday, has long been mentioned as a potential replacement for Salazar. Gregoire is close with Obama and Indian tribes and is a big backer of alternative energy, national parks and tourism.
"The tradition is to go to somebody from the West -- I'm not surprised at all that she's in the mix and I think she'd be a fine pick," said Carl Tobias, a law professor at the University of Richmond in Virginia who follows presidential appointments closely. "She's been a very successful governor of an important state and has wrestled with issues involving public land in her state. It seems to me she presents a pretty strong profile."
Gregoire said Wednesday that she's open to discussions about the post.