Simple no-strings process for Hanford land transfers

Land transfers from Hanford to the community should be made without a lot of conditions attached.

The simpler the process, the easier it will be to entice new industry to the Mid-Columbia. But already there's talk of how to spend whatever money might be made once the land is sold.

Let's focus on attracting new industry first and worry about the details of divvying up any money later. Getting too prescriptive now is unnecessary and could make selling the land a lot more difficult.

Here's how it's playing out:

The Tri-City Development Council asked the Department of Energy in late May for 1,341 acres of Hanford land that could be used for economic development.

The land is near Richland's city limits and DOE is expected to respond to Tridec's request by the end of the month.

Recently, two groups stepped forward with a request for what they want after the land is sold. Members of the Lower Columbia Basin Audubon Society and the Ridges to Rivers Open Space Network say they support the surplus land being transferred for industrial use, but would like to see the environment benefit from the proceeds.

They suggest the property be sold for at least 90 percent of its fair market value and that 25 percent of the proceeds should be used to buy undeveloped natural open space. They also would like to see $1.7 million used to complete the purchase of the McWhorter Ranch on Rattlesnake Mountain for management by the state.

We think finding a way to buy the McWhorter Ranch is a good idea, but it shouldn't be a forced part of the land transfer deal right now.

No one is opposed to improving the environment. However, TRIDEC is going to need flexibility if it is going to entice new industry to the area. That includes using money from initial sales to market the rest of the land.

This is an opportunity to create new jobs in the community, and any deal they arrange needs to be as attractive as possible.

Restrictions on the sale could be a deterrent to economic development.

TRIDEC made the request for the land transfer to help bolster the Tri-City economy, not to set it aside for conservation.

Once the land is transferred, details will have to be figured out by TRIDEC, Richland and other government agencies. If it's possible to use a portion of the money from the sale of the land to help the environment without detracting from job-creation efforts, then that's great.

But that's a decision for later. Right now TRIDEC needs to focus on getting the land, then getting it sold to industries that can contribute to the community's long-term economic health.