Tri-City residents and elected officials should be given a say on the future use of Hanford land as environmental cleanup is completed, elected officials near the nuclear reservation told federal leaders in a letter Tuesday.
More Hanford land along the Columbia River should not be added to the Hanford Reach National Monument managed by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service unless the agency has a "strong willingness" to support future public access as proposed by the local community, they said in the letter.
It was sent to Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz and Interior Secretary Sally Jewell by the mayors of Richland, Kennewick, Pasco and West Richland; the chairmen of the Benton and Franklin county commissions; the executive directors of the ports of Benton and Pasco; the Tri-City Development Council and the Tri-Cities Visitor and Convention Bureau.
The stand is at odds with two local groups, both leaders in ecological preservation, which have told congressional leaders that they support adding more uncontaminated Hanford land to the national monument.
Ridges to Rivers Open Space Network has said that Fish and Wildlife would assure proper management of the land and the Lower Columbia Basin Audubon Society also has supported expanding the monument.
The monument was created in 2000 from the security perimeter around the production portion of the Hanford nuclear reservation. President Clinton directed the energy secretary to consult with the interior secretary on the possibility of adding more land to the monument as Hanford land was released from environmental cleanup.
The letter sent Tuesday recommended that a public access plan be developed cooperatively by DOE, the Tri-Cities community and the National Park Service, as some historic areas of Hanford could be included in a proposed Manhattan Project National Historical Park.
The public access plan should include the proposed park, some land along the Columbia River and the potential for public entry near both the Vernita Bridge an the Hanford 300 Area just north of Richland.
Officials signing the letter said they respect Fish and Wildlife. But "we recognize that adding additional property to an already underfunded and understaffed agency could be doing a complete disservice to both the Fish and Wildlife Service and to our community," the letter said.
TRIDEC and the Visitor and Convention Bureau paid for a 2013 study to look at possible future access to clean Hanford lands. The study created a possible vision for the land with controlled public access for hiking, biking and camping. The earliest available access could be a seven-mile section of trail along the river from near the former Hanford town site to the old White Bluffs ferry landing.
The proposal would tie in with the national park proposal, allowing visitors to see what remains of communities where settlers were ordered out to make room for a secret project to produce plutonium for atomic bombs during World War II.
The proposal could serve as a starting point for discussions, the letter said. It reminded federal officials that Hanford land was owned by individuals, the county and state before the federal government condemned it in 1943 for the Manhattan Project.
Part of local leadership's concern with Fish and Wildlife management of more land is that about two-thirds of the national monument remains closed to the public. Fish and Wildlife says that is largely out of its control.
Some of the land is still being used by DOE as a buffer zone around areas at Hanford with radiological material. Rattlesnake Mountain has been designated a traditional cultural property and the tribes have opposed limited public access for tours there.
-- Annette Cary: 509-582-1533; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @HanfordNews