Juniper Dunes federal approval in Franklin County uncertain

Franklin County's request for federal dollars to improve access to the Juniper Dunes Recreation Area has received a first nod of approval but getting the money isn't certain.

The Federal Highway Administration has determined the project to build a county road to the site meets the criteria for the Federal Lands Access Program, Matt Mahoney, Franklin County public works director, told county commissioners Wednesday.

The county applied for a $1.05 million grant from the program so it can build an access road to the 19,600-acre Juniper Dunes area from the Pasco-Kahlotus Road.

Juniper Dunes is one of 37 sites in Washington competing for the money. The county would like to build a 4.2-mile road to help people reach the site, which is popular with off-highway vehicles, as well as horseback riders and hikers. People can now only reach Juniper Dunes on a private road with a "keep out" sign posted.

Commissioners said they were still concerned that even though the federal government has said the project is acceptable, the $27 million in available funding over two years might end up being doled out to other projects.

Commissioner Brad Peck said the decision was reason to be cautiously optimistic.

"Having spent a lot of years in the federal government, I know there is a lot of difference between authorization and appropriation," he said.

Mahoney also said the county had received $170,000 in unexpected County Arterial Preservation Program dollars from the state County Road Administration Board. He said the money can't be used to build new roads or widen existing roads, but it can go toward projects like the road overlay on Pasco-Kahlotus Road or the county chip seal program.

Also Wednesday:

-- A representative from the Tri-Cities Tea Party handed out literature about Common Core education standards. The blue brochure states the standards will centralize education decisions with the federal government and dictate that children across the country learn the same thing.

The brochure also included a quote from Adolf Hitler: "Give me your children and society will be changed in 10 years." He said the group also plans to hand the brochures out at next month's Benton Franklin Fair & Rodeo.

Lester Storms, chairman of the tea party's Agenda 21 committee, said the Common Core state standards are "an intrusion on freedom."

"I think this is against our state and federal constitutions, where the federal government is taking complete control of our education," he said during the public comment portion of the meeting.

-- Commissioners approved a $3,000 budget transfer to buy a 2002 Chevrolet Blazer sport utility vehicle for the county coroner to replace a vehicle that was totaled in an accident.

-- Commissioners approved an agreement to allow Lourdes Counseling Center to make Americans with Disabilities Act upgrades to the historic Wilson House, provided it returns the building to its current state if it ever moves out. The county rents the building at 224 N. Seventh Ave. in Pasco to Lourdes for $1 a year.

-- After the meeting, Miller talked about his late uncle, Ken Miller, who died at age 82 on Friday. His uncle served as a county commissioner from 1980-92.

Rick Miller said his uncle encouraged him first to go back to college and earn his bachelor's degree at age 40, then to get into politics.

"He was not in it to benefit himself," Miller said. "He was a very uplifting, optimistic person."

-- Geoff Folsom: 509-582-1543; gfolsom@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @GeoffFolsom