RICHLAND — After years of development, any number of frustrations and at least one big setback, the Hanford Reach Interpretive Center looks poised to become a reality.
The Walla Walla District of the Army Corps of Engineers on Wednesday announced initial approval for construction of the 61,000-square-foot museum in the west end of Columbia Park.
"This is huge," said Dan Boyd, secretary/treasurer of the Richland Public Facilities District Board.
The public facilities district is overseeing development of the center, which is intended to tell the story of Hanford's role in winning the Cold War, as well as the history, geology, flora and fauna of the region.
The museum is expected to see 65,000 visitors each year, including 20,000 elementary, middle and high-school students.
Project officials originally wanted to build at Columbia Point South, at the confluence of the Columbia and Yakima rivers.
But 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 permission from the Army Corps of Engineers to build in the west end of Columbia Park.
The Corps is the federal agency in charge of evaluating the environmental permits needed to build at the site, and for taking public comment on the project.
Corps officials said Wednesday that they completed their review of the proposed center, and published drafts of their environmental assessment and finding of no significant impact documents for the center. That triggers a 30-day public comment period ending May 23.
If, at the end of that period, the proposed construction is determined to have no significant impact on the quality of the human environment, and doesn't require preparation of a more in-depth environmental report, the Corps intends to move ahead with final approval, a news release said.
"This is a very positive thing that's happened," Boyd said. "We've been waiting for this for a long time."
Officials involved with development of the center performed archaeological testing of the site, which is next to the Columbia River. Four "artifact clusters" were found within the building site, but none of them was considered significant for listing on the National Register of Historic Places and the Corps determined no historic properties are affected.
The news release said no issues or concerns have been raised by area tribes for the new site that would trigger the kind of problems Reach officials experienced with Columbia Point South. That site was a popular gathering site for the tribes going back thousands of years.
Boyd said the next steps for the project are to finalize a lease with Richland city government for the Columbia Park west site, and to finish raising the $40.5 million budgeted for the project.
More than $26 million has been raised so far, he said.
"Now we just have to take care of those other two dominoes that need to fall to make the project a reality," he said.
To read the Corps' documents and submit a comment, visit www.nww.usace.army.mil/Hanford/default.asp.