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Protection of Hanford Reach Close

by Joel Connelly, National Correspondent
Seattle Post-Intelligencer, May 12, 2000

Clinton looks at 'monument' status for this stretch of Columbia River

Impatient with prolonged inaction by Congress, the Clinton administration is moving toward designating the 51-mile, undammed Hanford Reach of the Columbia River a national monument.

Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt is tentatively scheduled to visit the state Tuesday to explore ways to administratively protect the stretch of river that is home to the last healthy wild salmon run in the Columbia River system, said Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash.

"We cannot wait any longer," said Murray, a longtime sponsor of legislation that would give protection to the Hanford Reach under the U.S. Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.

"I have worked a long time to reach a legislative solution on this," Murray said. "At a time when our region faces tough choices on salmon runs, the Hanford Reach is a no-brainer. We've gotten to a point where obstructionists were ready to wait this out. . . . If we are going to ask others to sacrifice for salmon protection, the federal government must do its part first."

The battle over the Hanford Reach has raged for more than five years in Congress, but no legislation has emerged from committee.

Neither Murray nor an Interior Department spokeswoman would confirm that national monument designation is a likely option. They emphasized that Babbitt would come to discuss "administrative options" for the reach.

However, President Clinton recently used his authority under the 1906 Antiquities Act to designate a 1.1 million-acre national monument in Arizona canyonlands adjoining Grand Canyon National Park, and to protect 383,000 acres of giant sequoia trees in the Sierra Nevada of California.

"How many other official designations can the administration bestow on the area? It appears that the Hanford Reach has finally bubbled to the top of the list," said Bill Arthur, head of the Sierra Club's Northwest office.

Several of America's most famous national parks had their initial protection as presidentially designated national monuments. For instance, Theodore Roosevelt used his presidential authority to protect the Grand Canyon.

The Hanford Reach is the lone free-flowing stretch of the Columbia River between Bonneville Dam and the Canadian border. It is not a wilderness. Eight shut-down nuclear reactors sit along its banks. But due to a half-century of weapons work at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, the Columbia River was never dammed there.

"It is the biggest spawning area for wild chinook salmon left in the lower 48 states," said John DeYonge of the Washington Environmental Council.

The reach is home to a major fall chinook salmon run. It also is a transit area for salmon and steelhead moving upstream to the Okanogan and Methow rivers. The upstream runs have been listed under the Endangered Species Act.

The reach supports large flocks of birds, and is dotted with islands on which numerous Indian artifacts have been found.

The administration already has moved to protect slopes above the reach, which flows through the 560-square-mile Hanford Nuclear Reservation. Last November, President Clinton ordered that 57,000 acres called the Wahluke Slope be managed as part of the Saddle Mountain National Wildlife Refuge.

It is unclear whether a national monument would include only the Columbia River and its immediate environs or would also protect a 31-mile-long stretch of white bluffs above the river and the wildlife habitat of the Wahluke Slope.

Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., who represents central Washington, has resisted legislation calling for Wild and Scenic River designation for the reach. Local county commissioners, agribusiness interests and irrigation districts have also opposed federal protection of the Hanford Reach.

Hastings has introduced a rival bill that would set up a locally dominated body to protect the river. It would turn large areas of adjoining federal land over to management by four surrounding counties. A portion of the now-protected Wahluke Slope would be developed for agriculture.

Yesterday, the office of Sen. Slade Gorton, R-Wash., denounced the prospect of unilateral Clinton administration action.

"It reflects a total distrust of local communities' ability to govern their own affairs," said Cynthia Bergman, Gorton's press secretary.

"If the Clinton-Gore administration goes into Eastern Washington and takes over its back yard, this is only the tip of the iceberg," she added. "Under an Al Gore administration, we will see more of the same."

Richard Steele, a nuclear reservation worker, has spent more than four decades fighting to protect the Hanford Reach. In the 1960s and 1970s, he mobilized resistance to efforts by the Army Corps of Engineers to dam or dredge the river.

Steele applauded the Clinton administration's apparent decision not to wait for Congress to act.

"The river has to have federal protection," he said. "If that happens, we'll still have to stay on them to make sure they manage it right. I intend to stay on the river."

Joel Connelly, National Correspondent
Protection of Hanford Reach Close
Seattle Post-Intelligencer, May 12, 2000

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