RICHLAND -- Richland Mayor John Fox has a few concerns about whether the Hanford Reach Interpretive Center ever will become a reality, and what it might mean for the city if it doesn't.
"This interpretive center is something that must somehow succeed," Fox said. "It must be built somewhere we can agree on, and we must raise the rest of the funds. In order to do that, we have to somehow get people together and try to get past any divisiveness that has arisen."
The divisiveness Fox referred to is a disagreement between the Richland Public Facilities District, the public agency that will own and operate the cultural and regional museum, and the board of directors for The Reach, a nonprofit formed to raise money to build the project.
Representatives from both agencies have been talking for months about a memorandum of understanding that clearly defines their relationship and respective roles with the interpretive center.
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An existing memorandum governing the relationship between the facilities district and The Reach board expired Dec. 31 and was extended for six months by the district while the two agencies negotiated.
But a meeting of the minds hasn't yet come, and the facilities district board in May declined to approve the new agreement.
A contractual agreement is required between the two entities by the state Auditor's Office.
"We're asking them to look at other options," said Linda Boomer, president of the facilities district board. "We're eager to hear what they come up with. We need something that focuses on fundraising -- more like a fundraising foundation."
Ron Lerch, president of The Reach board, said he thinks it would be beneficial to both the district and the board to maintain a formal relationship, but declined to comment on what may be preventing that from happening.
He said he doesn't believe the ongoing talks will affect fundraising for the center, last estimated to cost $40.5 million to build.
The Reach is proposed as a 61,000-square-foot museum and interpretive center telling the story of the Hanford Reach National Monument and the flora, fauna, geology and history of the region.
About $26 million has been secured for the project so far through a combination of federal and state money and fundraising.
The project hit stumbling blocks in recent months as planners learned they wouldn't be allowed to build at their preferred site at the confluence of the Columbia and Yakima rivers in Richland because of objections by area tribes.
That could mean the $40.5 million construction estimate may change, depending on how construction would have to be adjusted for a new location.
The public facilities district has discussed building in the west end of Columbia Park, but that site is pending approval of the Army Corps of Engineers.
Fox said he has asked to have a city council discussion about the Reach center during a pre-meeting workshop at 7 p.m. Tuesday because the facilities district had asked for a letter from the city to The Reach board to help resolve the disagreement.
Fox declined to comment on what the letter might say, or what the goals of having the city write a letter might be.
"I will be asking the council for advice about that, whether or not the city writes a letter," he said. "I think generally from a community standpoint and achieving broad community support we need to try to get the organizations to converge and agree on something."
Although the council created the facilities district, it has no effective control over the agency other than to appoint its board members, Fox said.
That leaves him a little uneasy because of a recent experience with another city-created public agency -- the Richland Housing Authority.
The housing authority closed its doors Wednesday after years of financial troubles that culminated in the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development yanking the authority's Section 8 housing voucher funding when a HUD report revealed the authority couldn't account for nearly $500,000 in Section 8 money.
The housing authority board has spent the last several months selling off assets to pay debts so it could shut down -- and along the way Fox has expressed concerns that Richland city government might be left liable for the authority's debts if left unpaid.
The housing authority board decided Tuesday to keep meeting as needed and not to deactivate the agency until all liabilities are off the books.
Fox said the city bears some culpability for what happened to the housing authority by not keeping a close eye on the agency's board.
"Partly as a consequence of the city not paying any attention to it, and due to what I would say is negligence of the administrator and the board, it ran itself into the ground," he said.
He added, "The PFD is such an agency also. ... I have expressed concerns that the city may not have been paying enough attention to this, and that it has gone on for a number of years and is not moving fast enough toward its goal."
Fox said the council also will discuss two seats on the facilities district board that are coming open and how the council will go about filling the vacancies. One seat is occupied by Boomer, who has said she will re-apply. The other is held by Rich Emery, who Fox said is not re-applying. Both terms expire July 15.
The council workshop will be in the Administration Annex Conference Room, 965 George Washington Way.