A longtime community leader who has helped drive numerous economic achievements in the Tri-Cities is letting someone else take the wheel.
Gary Petersen, vice president of federal programs for the Tri-City Development Council, retired earlier this month after devoting 14 years to the post.
He has been an enthusiastic promoter and fierce defender of the community.
In protecting Tri-City interests, Petersen never hesitated.
He could go toe-to-toe with any politician, lawyer, government department head or anti-nuclear activist if he felt the community’s welfare or reputation was threatened.
The 76-year-old Richland man could be relied on to provide insight and balance whenever negative publicity about Hanford surfaced.
He was the go-to Tri-City spokesman — firm and polite — who brought a counter opinion to the table when we needed someone to stick up for us.
Petersen also has played a significant role in countless community triumphs, including the passage of legislation two years ago that established the Manhattan Project National Historical Park.
The political wrangling involved to make the park happen took 10 years to work out. Petersen, if anything, is a guy who doesn’t give up easily.
The new park, which will include Hanford’s historic B Reactor, has been called a game changer for local tourism, and is expected to attract 100,000 visitors annually in its initial years.
Another significant achievement that involved Petersen is the Hanford land transfer from the Department of Energy to the community.
Petersen was instrumental in ensuring DOE kept its commitment to transfer 1,641 acres to TRIDEC, which then dispersed it to the city of Richland, Port of Benton and Energy Northwest. The authorization came in 2015 after years of delay.
Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., called Petersen an “invaluable partner” during Congressional funding battles.
During her recent tribute to him on the Senate floor, she said Petersen knew the federal budget “as well as any staff member on the Appropriations Committee” and that his efforts were not just limited to nuclear waste cleanup, but other priorities as well — like transportation, agriculture and the research and development mission at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.
Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Wash., also praised Petersen, saying that for five decades, “Gary has been a devoted advocate for the Tri-Cities” and that his efforts have been critical to our area’s growth and development.
Petersen, a graduate of Washington State University, began work at PNNL in 1965 right out of college. He took a job with the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission in Nevada in 1971, but returned to the Hanford site a couple of years later. At Hanford, hee worked for different agencies before eventually returning to PNNL as director of communications and then manager for the lab’s international nuclear safety program. He retired in 2003.
It was after his retirement that he was recruited by TRIDEC for his current position, which was supposed to be part-time. But those close to Petersen know his commitment to the Tri-City community was never reined in by the clock, and he did what he needed to do regardless of how much time was involved.
But now, the job goes to someone new.
TRIDEC announced Wednesday that Petersen’s replacement will be David Reeploeg, who is Sen. Maria Cantwell’s Central Washington director.
Reeploeg has worked for Cantwell for nine years and worked for Sen. Patty Murray prior. His political experience should come in handy in his new role at TRIDEC, as should his knowledge of the community, Hanford and PNNL.
Whenever people praised Petersen’s work at TRIDEC, he would deflect the compliments. He emphasized he was always part of a team, and that he alone was not responsible for any Tri-City achievement.
That’s true. But every team needs a solid, reliable captain.
And Gary Petersen fit that role beautifully.