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News Draws Mixed Reaction from Area Officials

by Mike Lee, Herald Staff Writer
Tri-City Herald, June 1, 2000

Left with little choice, Mid-Columbia officials will try to make the best of what promises to be a new national monument at Hanford.

They greeted the news with a mixture of relief, indignation and praise Wednesday after Interior Department Secretary Bruce Babbitt called county commissioners to tell them about his recommendation to the president.

"The counties will step up and be a full participant in the planning," said Adam Fyall, associate planner for Benton County. "We want a seat at the table."

Within a few weeks, 200,000 acres of federal land that create a giant 'C' around central Hanford likely will be added to the growing list of national monuments. Included in Babbitt's proposal are the Arid Lands Ecology Reserve, the Saddle Mountain National Wildlife Refuge, the Hanford Dunes, the Columbia River corridor and a quarter-mile band along the Benton County side of the river. The official site map was not released Wednesday.

Almost everything else about the monument's future is unsettled. "There's a whole lot of things coming down as to what this means and what it's going to take and what's going to go on there," said Greg Hughes, project leader at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Richland office.

Unlike most Clinton-designated monuments, the Hanford Reach will be managed by the Fish and Wildlife Service, an agency with a long history of land management in the Columbia Basin. "We're very excited," Hughes said. "It shows the trust they have in our management of the resources."

The Department of Energy likely would continue to own the monument land. Energy Secretary Bill Richardson "indicated his strong commitment" to continue to work with the local communities, the state, area Indian tribes and other federal agencies to plan for the best future uses of the main Hanford site, according to an agency press statement.

At the Wahluke School District, Superintendent Bill Miller said he and most of the Mattawa community wished some of the land headed for monument status would have been turned over to farmers. But Miller, part of a county-based citizens panel that developed a Hanford Reach protection plan in the late 1990s, said the important thing is that the pristine stretch of the Columbia River will be protected.

"I am really happy that the Reach will be preserved," he said. "It's going to be a great thing."

The focus now is turning to how to make the most of monument status, something few people seem sure about how to do.

"We all need to pull together as a community to .... make this thing an asset - to maximize the potential of this designation to improve the quality of life in our community," said Rick Leaumont, a longtime advocate of federal control of the Reach. "It's an image-builder."

But it won't be much of a tourist attraction, predicted Terry Brewer, executive director of the Grant County Economic Development Council in Ephrata.

"I don't see a real big attraction compared to what we see at the other end of the county, for example, Grand Coulee (Dam)," he said. "Do I ever see an impact anywhere close to that? I don't think so."

If the Hanford Reach monument listing follows the pattern set by other monuments, it will include a management plan developed over the next two or three years to set parameters on activities. At a public meeting last month in Richland, Babbitt told residents he would work with them on a variety of local questions about access and uses of the site.

Everything from fire service and jet boats to camping and a monument for settlers evicted by the Atomic Energy Commission is likely to come up during management planning discussions.

Counties have maintained they should share Reach management authority with state and federal governments, not left as part of an advisory board.

At the forefront of county concerns is whether the federal agencies will continue to pay local governments about $3 million a year in lieu of taxes. "We could go to zero," said Claude Oliver, Benton County commissioner. "It could be a very significant loss of dollars."

But that probably won't happen. Marla Marvin, director of public affairs for DOE's Richland office, said because her agency will continue to own the land, no reductions are expected in the payments in lieu of taxes, better known as PILT.

Also, county leaders were relieved that the imminent designation does not take in lands in the southeast section of the Hanford site that business leaders are looking at for future economic development. Babbitt indicated interest in setting aside all 560 square miles of the Hanford site during his May tour, something that could have hampered business growth north of Richland.

"Various types of proposals come up that need significant land," Benton County's Fyall said. "It would be foresightful to have an area like that for a number of opportunities in the future."

But the land concessions don't entirely soothe local leaders. "There are some concerns about federal government and management of the land," said Grant County Commission Chairwoman Deborah Moore after a 15-minute conference call with Babbitt. "Their track record is not good."

Moore added: "Bill Clinton and Bruce Babbitt are going to be out of office in January, but the people of Grant, Franklin and Benton counties are going to be here a long time after they are gone."

She said the counties are still looking at the possibility of a legal challenge to the monument designation but that they will continue to shape the management plan.

Leaumont offered to bury the hatchet after years of acrimony between environmentalists and county leaders over how to best protect the Reach.

"The past is the past," he said. "We want to start out fresh working together."

Mike Lee
News Draws Mixed Reaction from Area Officials
Tri-City Herald, June 1, 2000

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