Congressional deadline Sept. 30 to turn over Hanford land

Supporters of transferring Hanford land for economic development may have reason to celebrate.

Federal legislation requires the Department of Energy to turn over 1,641 acres of unneeded land to the Tri-City Development Council by a deadline of Sept. 30.

Former Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., worked with Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, both D-Wash., to mandate the land transfer late in 2014, more than three years after TRIDEC applied for the land.

DOE declined Tuesday to discuss its plans to meet the deadline. But TRIDEC is optimistic enough that DOE will sign over the land that it has planned a celebration Thursday and issued invitations to those who have worked for as long as five years on the issue.

They are waiting until Thursday, the start of the new federal fiscal year, to celebrate because the transfer will be “a new start,” said Gary Petersen, TRIDEC vice president of Hanford projects. It provides an opportunity to look for a manufacturer with a clean energy product or similar companies for the Tri-Cities area.

TRIDEC’s goal is to replace jobs lost at Hanford as portions of environmental cleanup are completed or less federal money is spent on the project.

It is designated by DOE as the Hanford Community Reuse Organization, allowing it to accept excess property, ranging from Hanford’s unneeded desks to unused land.

Because TRIDEC is not in the business of leasing or selling land, it has formed a partnership with area governments that will take over ownership of much or all of the land. It is working with the city of Richland, the Port of Benton and Benton County.

A 300-acre portion of land may be transferred by TRIDEC with agreement from local governments directly to a solar project developer.

The legislation specifies that any money from the sale or lease of the land be used to support economic redevelopment of Hanford land.

TRIDEC, in partnership with local governments, started working on a plan to have some largely unused land at Hanford turned over to the community for economic development in 2011. Then DOE announced that it wanted to reduce the footprint of DOE environmental cleanup sites, such as Hanford, as cleanup progressed. It proposed then that “clean energy parks” would be a good use of the land.

In May 2011, TRIDEC formally requested 1,341 acres of Hanford land just north of Horn Rapids Road. DOE and TRIDEC later agreed to add another 300 acres to the request for a possible solar energy project.

TRIDEC has two companies interested in developing one or more solar projects on that land in the next two or three years. If the project is not started by 2018, the land would revert back to TRIDEC.

DOE looked at an area of 4,413 acres for the transfer, narrowing that to focus on 2,474 acres under consideration in an environmental assessment.

A draft environmental assessment found no radioactive contamination on that acreage. Little use had been made of that area during World War II and the Cold War, when Hanford produced plutonium for the nation’s nuclear weapons program.

TRIDEC and its partners have been interested in obtaining as much eligible land as possible through the request within the urban growth boundary of southern Hanford, which would be the most convenient for developing infrastructure to serve the site.

TRIDEC has previously proposed that the 1,341-acre parcel be divided into a 900-acre site that could be used for one or two large enterprises providing 2,000 to 3,000 jobs combined. The land would be a “mega site” in industrial terms because it would have at least 500 contiguous acres available.

In addition, three smaller 100- to 200-acre sites would support another 400 to 500 jobs combined.

DOE’s 1999 Comprehensive Land Use Plan designated most of Hanford’s 586 square miles for conservation and preservation programs. Hanford facilities were widely spaced across the nuclear reservation for security, and the production area of the reservation was surrounded with another security zone, leaving large areas of undeveloped shrub steppe habitat.

The land use plan sets aside 39,000 acres, or about a tenth of the nuclear reservation, for future industrial development. TRIDEC’s 1,641 acres would be among those 39,000 acres.

Annette Cary: 509-582-1533; acary@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @HanfordNews