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Hanford Area may be Protected

by Peter Sleeth
The Oregonian, May 13, 2000

Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt will visit and could recommend
the Hanford Reach as a national monument

Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt plans to visit the Hanford Reach on the Columbia River next week, a move that could precede federal protection for the area.

The 51 miles of the Hanford Reach near Pasco, Wash., form the last free-flowing stretch of the Columbia River above Bonneville Dam. It has long been eyed for preservation because of its unique status on a river that has become a series of lakes held back by dams.

The reach provides prime spawning grounds for about 90 percent of the Columbia River Basin's wild chinook. Every year, as many as a half-million young salmon swim out of the reach to begin their migration to the ocean.

An Interior Department spokesman said Friday that Babbitt would be looking at the site for possible designation as a national monument. The 1906 Antiquities Act gives presidents broad power to create monuments without congressional approval.

But a spokeswoman for Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., said that Babbitt told the congressman the visit would be a fact-finding trip only.

Babbitt will take a driving and boat tour of the area Tuesday. Afterward, a public meeting will be held from 6 to 7 p.m. at the Red Lion Hanford House in Richland, Wash.

The paradox of the Hanford Reach is that it has been preserved by the most destructive forces ever unleashed by man. Nine nuclear reactors line the riverbank along the 360-square-mile Hanford Nuclear Reservation. The reactors once made plutonium, the nuclear material that fuels atomic weapons.

Because of national security concerns, the government left the area in its natural state, and no dam was allowed to be built on the reach. As a result, wildlife thrives in the area.

In the past few years, local residents and elected officials have come up with a variety of plans to manage the area.

Hastings wants to create a partnership among federal, state and local officials to manage the Hanford Reach. He has called for opening certain areas within the reach for greater public access and eventually some private agricultural development.

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., has argued for a federal Wild and Scenic River designation but said she has given up on Congress approving such protection. "The obstructionists can win by just saying no," Murray said Friday.

Though there is some local opposition to federal management of the land, Murray said she thinks federal protection would enjoy wide support.

"I think the vast majority of people in the Pacific Northwest realize the need to save salmon," she said.

Peter Sleeth
Hanford Area may be Protected
The Oregonian, May 13, 2000

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