The Department of Energy has completed a draft environmental assessment of unneeded Hanford land to be used for economic development, finding nothing that appears to be a deal breaker, according to the Tri-City Development Council.
A public meeting is planned 5:30 p.m. July 30 at the Hampton Inn in Richland to discuss the assessment and collect public comment.
TRIDEC, along with local governments, requested 1,341 acres of Hanford land just north of Richland for economic development in May 2011. Added to that request were 300 acres nearby that had been proposed by Energy Northwest for a solar farm.
The proposal started moving forward more quickly after former Rep. Doc Hastings got federal legislation passed in December that requires DOE to transfer the two parcels to TRIDEC by the end of September, little more than two months from now.
TRIDEC is designated by the federal government as a community reuse organization for unneeded Hanford property. It teamed with the city of Richland, Benton County and the Port of Benton to request property bordered by Horn Rapids Road on the south and Stevens Drive on the east.
The Hanford Comprehensive Land Use Plan calls for most land in the 586-square-mile nuclear reservation to be used for preservation or conservation as environmental cleanup is completed.
Some of the nuclear reservation is contaminated from the past production of plutonium for the nation’s nuclear weapons program.
However, about 10 percent of the land, including the parcel requested by TRIDEC, is planned for industrial use. It could help create jobs as portions of Hanford are cleaned up and employment at the nuclear reservation eventually declines.
DOE evaluated an area of 4,413 acres, then narrowed that to focus on 2,474 acres from which to take the acreage it is required by law to transfer for development.
The environmental assessment found no radioactive contamination on the acreage. Little use was historically made of that area of Hanford.
However, DOE did find a few areas among the acreage it is not ready to give up, although TRIDEC said that land also might eventually be available for economic development. DOE earlier transferred north Richland land for industrial development.
One 340-acre section along Route 4 South was excluded from the proposed transfer. It includes a borrow pit used to dig up clean dirt used for environmental cleanup projects. It also is included in the exclusion area for the 325 Building to the east on the other side of Route 4 South. The building continues to be used by Pacific Northwest National Laboratory for radiological work.
One 53-acre section along Horn Rapids Road, the site of a pre-Manhattan Project farm, was excluded. It has some debris left from farming before the land was taken over by the federal government in 1943 for the then-secret nuclear reservation, said Gary Petersen, TRIDEC vice president for Hanford projects.
A nearby 73-acre section along Horn Rapids Road was excluded from the proposed land transfer because it includes a former construction dump site with some asbestos, according to TRIDEC.
Some land near the Hanford firing range to the west also was excluded from consideration.
TRIDEC and the three local governments are interested in obtaining as much eligible land as possible in southern Hanford within the urban growth boundary, which will be the most convenient for developing infrastructure to support industry there, Petersen said.
“We are anxious to get land available to the community,” he said.
The land is classified as a “mega site” in industrial terms because it has at least 500 contiguous acres available.
“Sites like that are rare in the United States,” Petersen said. “It’s a huge opportunity to bring in a major manufacturer.”
There could be some additional restrictions put on the land. Deed restrictions are being prepared to prohibit certain levels of noise and vibrations that could disturb delicate scientific work at nearby Pacific Northwest National Laboratory or the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory to the north on Hanford land.
No species that are threatened or endangered were found by the environmental assessment. Industrial development would displace wildlife and lead to the loss of habitat on shrub-steppe land, the assessment said.
However, less than 1 percent of Hanford land, including the Hanford Reach National Monument, is included in the proposed transfer. DOE could compensate for the loss of habitat by making habitat improvements or enhancing habitat protection elsewhere at Hanford.
Two areas previously found eligible for the National Register of Historic Places are within the acreage studied; the Richland Irrigation Canal and the Hanford Site Plant Railroad.
Four Native American tribes or bands did studies commissioned by DOE and described potential impacts on nearby properties important to the tribes, including Rattlesnake Mountain and Gable Mountain.
However, construction activity has the potential to destroy archaeological sites, should one be in the area.
The Yakamas said a tribal monitor should be present during ground-disturbing construction.
Plants used by native people would be destroyed by construction, but the assessment said Hanford has other large tracts of lands with similar plants.
“We encourage the public to comment on this draft environmental assessment through written comments or at the open house and public meeting later this month,” DOE said in a statement.
It is interested in comments on the completeness and accuracy of the data in the review and any additional information that should be considered. The environmental assessment is posted at www.hanford.gov on the public calendar with links to it for each day through Aug. 12 when the comment period closes.
Comments may be emailed to landconveyanceEA@rl.doe.gov or mailed to NEPA Document Manager, Land Conveyance EA, U.S. Department of Energy, P.O. Box 550 Mailstop A2-15, Richland, WA 99352.