A week after an apparent rift between members of the Richland City Council and the city's Public Facilities District Board, representatives of both agencies said they want residents to know they are unified in their goals.
Richland Mayor John Fox, facilities district board Vice Chairman Joel Rogo and board member Nick Ceto met with the Tri-City Herald's editorial board this week to say that despite a difference of opinion about the qualities desired in new board members, the city and the district are committed to seeing the Hanford Reach Interpretive Center built.
The facilities district was formed in 2002 to build the interpretive center -- a museum intended to tell the story of Hanford's role in winning World War II and the Cold War, as well as the history, geology, flora and fauna of the region.
The estimated $40.5 million price tag is more than the state sales tax revenue brought in by the district, and so the board has sought money from state and federal grants, and from private fundraising.
About $26 million has been raised so far, but that still leaves a significant amount to be raised before the project can be completed.
A discussion July 19 by council members leading up to the appointment of two new members to the facilities district board indicated a disconnect between the two agencies about the board's purpose and how much oversight the council should have over it.
The sticking point was a document drafted in response to a comment made by Mayor Pro Tem Ed Revell on June 20 that his job as the city council's liaison to the facilities district board was "oversight."
The document alleges that state law doesn't allow oversight by the city council because the facilities district is an independent taxing authority -- basically its own government agency.
Revell also told the council July 18 that there was a difference in opinion about whether the board's purpose is to raise money to build the 61,000-square-foot interpretive center, or to govern the public agency and manage the project.
Council members Bob Thompson, Phil Lemley and Fox said during the July 18 meeting that they see the board's role as governance rather than fundraising, and wanted to appoint members with governance skills.
The council appointed Rick Jansons, president of the Richland School Board, and Fred Raab, head of Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory at Hanford, to fill positions being vacated by board Chairman Eric Gerber and Burt Vaughan.
Council members said the board should leave direct fundraising activities to interpretive center CEO Kimberly Camp, who is employed by the board, and a fundraising committee made up of a number of community leaders.
Fox attempted to clarify that position when speaking to the Herald this week.
"While the PFD board members would be involved in fundraising, there is an extensive fundraising committee," he said. "Some people may have misconstrued that we have different priorities. We are looking at the overall project."
Ceto said the board has worked on improving communication between the facilities district and the city council.
"The city and the PFD ... are on the same page. We have the same goals," Ceto said.
Fox said the city agrees that fundraising is the "immediate critical issue" for the project, and that the city is merely trying to ensure the city is protected if the interpretive center fails down the road, even though he hopes that doesn't happen.
The board recently cleared a major hurdle with approval from the Army Corps of Engineers in Walla Walla for a sublease on land at Columbia Park West and a determination that the project complies with federal environmental laws.
Project developers now want to focus on raising the rest of the money needed to start construction -- about $15 million, Ceto said.
Fox said the project leaders now have a "clear path forward" and that the city supports the interpretive center's development.
"Both the city and the PFD are committed to producing the Hanford Reach Interpretive Center," Fox said.
* Michelle Dupler: 509-582-1543; email@example.com