Hanford to hold State of the Site meeting — virtually

People line up to ask questions of Hanford officials at an earlier State of the Site meeting.
People line up to ask questions of Hanford officials at an earlier State of the Site meeting. Tri-City Herald file

Hanford officials plan their first State of the Site meeting since 2014 next month, but no meeting room has been booked.

Instead, they plan their first virtual State of the Site.

Participants will need to log onto the Internet from 7-9 p.m. April 12 to ask questions and learn about what’s happening at the nuclear reservation.

The meetings used to be held annually, but in recent years, they have been held sporadically, despite repeated requests from the Hanford Advisory Board to return to a regular schedule.

In 2015, with the Department of Energy not planning a State of the Site, Columbia Riverkeeper, Hanford Challenge, Heart of America Northwest and Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility planned their own versions, with meetings held in Spokane, Vancouver and Walla Walla, but not the Tri-Cities.

The last official State of the Site was in spring 2014, with DOE and its regulators — the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Washington State Department of Ecology — taking questions from the public.

webinars are an impersonal tool for a controlled exchange.

Hanford Advisory Board

The meeting in the Tri-Cities, one of a series of four held in Washington and Oregon that year, drew about 250 people. They asked about topics ranging from chemical vapors at the tank farms to how land that is cleaned of environmental contaminants on the 580-square-mile nuclear reservation will be used.

The Hanford Advisory Board has had some reservations about conducting this year’s meeting online.

“While webinars are excellent tools for sharing information, they do not best serve a two-way conversation or provide meaningful opportunities for the public to influence cleanup decisions,” the board said in a letter of advice to the board in December. “Webinars are an impersonal tool for a controlled exchange.”

A mediator will screen questions and decide when to unmute participants’ phone lines, the board pointed out. There will be less opportunity to clarify remarks to build understanding, it said.

The online format also will not allow those attending the meeting to meet each other and exchange ideas.

We believe creating a virtual space for discussion will be a cost-effective way to allow … decision-makers to address the progress and challenges of the cleanup efforts, as well as answer questions and concerns.

Department of Energy, Environmental Protection Agency and Washington State Department of Ecology

State of the Site meetings are better suited for in-person meetings, but webinars could be used throughout the year to communicate technical information and give updates about specific projects to the public, the board said.

DOE, EPA and Ecology responded in a joint letter in February, saying that a web-based meeting next month does not mean that future, in-person meetings have been ruled out.

Holding the State of the Site electronically this spring will save money and make it easier for some people to participate, both regionally and nationally, they said. They will consider the suggestion that web-based meetings be used for forums for technical topics.

To register for the April State of the Site, billed as an “Online Conversation of Cleanup Progress and Challenges,” go to www.hanford.gov and click on the “Hanford Live” web banner. The site will be offline from 8 to 10 p.m. Wednesday for maintenance.

Questions for the meeting can be submitted anytime from now through the evening of the meeting to HanfordLive2017@rl.gov. They also can be submitted through Facebook or Twitter.

Those wanting to submit their questions in the form of a video can find instructions at hanford.gov. To allow time to process video questions, the deadline to submit them is Wednesday.

Annette Cary: 509-582-1533, @HanfordNews