When state Rep. Brad Klippert looks at the expanse of sand and sagebrush at the Hanford site, he sees a good place for a future state prison and an oil refinery.
Those two possibilities were part of a vision for the site he explained to local business leaders at a recent candidate forum.
But it's a vision that has his challenger in the upcoming Nov. 2 election asking, "What is he thinking?"
Democrat Carol Moser said when she heard Klippert, R-Kennewick, say he wanted a prison and a refinery at Hanford, her immediate reaction was shock.
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"I just couldn't believe this is his vision for Hanford," Moser said. "That is not what we're going to need."
Community leaders -- including Moser -- have been focused on developing a post-Hanford economy that makes the Tri-Cities a hub for scientific research and development and clean energy -- fields that offer well-paying, high-tech jobs.
Moser said that's how the community should envision the Hanford site, not as a dumping ground for felons.
She noted the Mid-Columbia already has prisons in Connell and Walla Walla and is cutting funding for prisons as the state struggles with declining revenues and a mounting deficit.
"It is going to take a lot of state resources to build another state penitentiary," she said. "I'm not sure that's what the community wants."
Klippert said he thinks it's a mistake for the state to be scaling back prisons, and sees the open land at the Hanford site as a perfect spot for a new facility.
"I keep hearing we need to release prisoners out of our jails because we don't have bed space," said Klippert, who also is a Benton County Sheriff's deputy. "There is miles and miles of open country out there. It would be an excellent spot for a future Washington state penitentiary, and would keep our streets and communities safer."
Klippert said public safety is one of his priorities as a state legislator.
"The current administration and current majority party obviously in their budget cuts don't see our security and public safety as a high priority," he said. "While they're making huge budget cuts in the Department of Corrections, I feel there are other places we could be making budget cuts and keeping our community safer."
He said bringing another oil refinery to Washington would help lower fuel prices for residents.
"One reason prices are so high is because we don't have enough refineries," he said. "We need another refinery. Why not bring crude oil by rail to the Hanford area and refine it and bring down fuel prices? What a plus for Washingtonians if we can bring fuel prices down."
He added that he believes his ideas can work next to the kinds of high-technology industries other Tri-Citians want to see developed at and near Hanford.
"Absolutely they would work side-by-side," he said. "One of the things we need to do is start thinking outside the box. Everybody thinks we keep doing this and that and should keep expanding on that. I say absolutely, let's expand, but what's the future potential? We should think outside the box and look for potential public-private partnerships. ... The sky's the limit."
Moser expressed dismay at the idea of an oil refinery or prison at the site.
"I think it is not a good fit for the Tri-Cities," she said.