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Reach Center might break ground this fall

The first dirt soon could be turned for construction of a local science and history museum nine years in development.

Officials involved with the Hanford Reach Interpretive Center tentatively have scheduled a groundbreaking ceremony for Oct. 5, conditioned on getting final approval from the state Department of Transportation.

The groundbreaking would be for the first phase of the project, which involves extending water and sewer lines, building a driveway that eventually will become part of Columbia Park Trail, and getting the property in the west end of Columbia Park ready for the eventual construction of the museum itself.

The Richland Public Facilities District -- the public agency overseeing development of the estimated $40 million interpretive center -- got approval from the city's Public Works Department on its construction drawings for the first phase, which allows the district to send materials on to the transportation department for approval.

Steve Stairs, Richland's transportation engineer, said the transportation department must sign off because money from the Federal Highway Administration is being used for the first phase.

Kimberly Camp, interpretive center CEO, said approval from the transportation department could take as little as a couple of weeks.

"We're pretty excited," Camp said.

The project cleared some significant milestones this summer after being stalled for about two years after the originally planned site at Columbia Point south, at the confluence of the Columbia and Yakima rivers, fell through.

Objections by area tribes, coupled with strings attached to federal money, triggered an intensive review process that officials ultimately decided they couldn't overcome. That resulted in a decision to attempt to get clearance from the Corps of Engineers to build in the west end of Columbia Park.

In June, the Corps approved a sublease between Richland and the facilities district that will allow the 61,000-square-foot museum to be built on land in Columbia Park that the city leases from the Corps.

In another important step, the Corps also announced completion of an environmental review and found the proposed project is in compliance with federal environmental laws.

Museum proponents now are focused on finalizing details of the building, getting permits, and raising the remaining money needed for the total project budget. About $26 million has been raised so far.

Proponents often have said that breaking ground will be an important step toward revitalizing the fundraising campaign, which mostly had stalled while the facilities district looked for an alternate site.