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Hanford Reach as Monument Gains Ally

by Joel Connelly, P-I National Correspondent
Seattle Post-Intelligencer, June 1, 2000

Babbitt recommendation is praised and rebuked

Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt, citing the need to preserve natural landscapes of America's West, yesterday recommended creation of a 200,000-acre Hanford Reach National Monument on the last undammed stretch of the Columbia River.

The stretch of river in Eastern Washington was one of four national monument proposals. The others are Anasazi Indian ruins in southwest Colorado, Soda Mountain in south-central Oregon and a mountainous area of Arizona's Sonoran Desert near Tucson.

Babbitt's recommendation was welcomed by President Clinton and applauded by Gov. Gary Locke.

"Each of the areas recommended today represents an exceptional, irreplaceable piece of America's natural and cultural protection," Clinton said in a statement. Locke described the reach as "a national treasure. . . . In so many ways, it remains a snapshot of an earlier time."

Capitol Hill sources predicted last night that Clinton, using his authority under the 1906 Antiquities Act, may act within a month to designate the national monument in Eastern Washington.

But officials in three Central Washington counties continued to oppose federal protection for the 51-mile reach, the only undammed stretch of the Columbia River between Bonneville Dam and the U.S.-Canada border. They are not satisfied with Babbitt's promise of an advisory role in monument management.

"This is insulting. It's an insult to the people of Central Washington," Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., said yesterday. Hastings' district includes the Hanford Reach.

Sue Miller, a Franklin County commissioner, said: "Nobody is required to take our advice. We know best of all what should happen out there.

"A large number of the people I represent do not feel federal control is in the best interests of the Hanford Reach."

Rick Leaumont of Richland, head of the Lower Columbia Basin Audubon Society, rebuked Hastings. "I'm not insulted," Leaumont said. "This is a great day for the Tri-Cities.

"This designation will change the image of our community. The world now sees us as a nuclear waste repository. This will show that we live amid natural beauty where fish thrive, near a great wildlife haven. It says all the right things about us."

Democratic lawmakers said that attempts to work out a compromise have been scuttled by pro-development county commissioners and agricultural interests who want to irrigate part of the federally owned Wahluke Slope north of the reach. The reach is the last major salmon spawning habitat on the Columbia River.

"We tried, we worked and we pleaded," Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Wash., said yesterday. "If you're not going to take out the Snake River dams, you need to do something else to protect these fish. The Hanford Reach is an absolute priority. We had to take this step. It was very clear that our colleagues simply intended to block this."

But Sen. Slade Gorton, R-Wash., attacked Babbitt for the speed of his recommendation. The Interior secretary toured the Hanford Reach two weeks ago. Gorton argued that Babbitt "was simply paying lip service to the surrounding communities."

The national monument would include the Columbia River, the Wahluke Slope and still-wild areas of the 560-square-mile Hanford Nuclear Reservation.

If designated by Clinton, the monument would end 40 years of struggle over the reach.

Officials in Grant and Franklin counties have campaigned for more irrigation on the Wahluke Slope, despite water-caused erosion and undermining of the white bluffs that overlook the river.

"The (salmon) spawning area can only be protected if the Wahluke Slope is strictly off-limits to future development, including irrigation," Locke said yesterday.

Under the Antiquities Act, a president can designate national monuments to protect places of historic significance and scientific interest. President Theodore Roosevelt used it to create 18 national monuments, including the Grand Canyon.

Clinton has aggressively used the act. Beginning with the 1996 designation of the Escalante-Grand Staircase National Monument in Utah's canyonlands, the president has protected landscapes ranging from giant sequoia trees in California to wild, flood-sculpted tributaries of the Grand Canyon in northern Arizona.

Last month, Republicans on the House Appropriations Committee amended a spending bill to take away presidential authority to designate new national monuments. Clinton has vowed to veto the legislation if it reaches his desk.

The Hanford Reach National Monument would be managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, under agreements with the Department of Energy. The Energy Department is overseeing cleanup of nuclear waste at Hanford.

Babbitt's monument proposal puts Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., on the brink of a major political triumph. A few years ago, Murray rafted the reach with a Hanford nuclear worker named Richard Steele, who has worked 40 years to preserve the river. She then introduced legislation that would protect it under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.

"This place is history for a number of reasons," Murray said yesterday. "My dad grew up in the Tri-Cities. He told me before his death that we should give something back to a region that has given us so much. By doing this, we protect salmon, cultural artifacts, and the native plants and animals that came before us."

But Hastings delivered a scathing, unusually personal rebuke of a fellow member of Congress. "Either Senator Murray doesn't know what the residents of Central Washington want, or she doesn't care," he said.

Gorton said yesterday that the Hanford Reach "is under no immediate threat" from development and accused the Clinton administration of "destroying years of negotiations."

But Steele argued that protection can't wait. He said irrigation water has already done great damage to the reach and its prized salmon spawning beds.

"There's an area I fished 30 years ago, standing on a cobblestone beach up to 100 yards wide," he said. "When I returned last Thanksgiving, the whole bar was covered with silt up to 3 feet thick."

Rep. Jay Inslee, D-Wash., who represented Central Washington in Congress until he was ousted by Hastings in 1994, added that Congress will never protect the reach.

"Some of my colleagues have an ideological aversion to protecting public lands: It's time to apply the Teddy Roosevelt tradition," said Inslee, who now represents a suburban Western Washington district in Congress.

Joel Connelly
Hanford Reach as Monument Gains Ally
Seattle Post-Intelligencer, June 1, 2000

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