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Counties Seeking Reach Strategy

by Mike Lee, Herald staff writer
Tri-City Herald, May 20, 2000

Still flustered by the near-certain creation of a national monument at Hanford, county officials met Friday in Pasco to plot their opposition.

That could lead to a legal challenge of an expected presidential order designating the Hanford Reach and surrounding lands as a monument.

"We're certainly not consenting to it," said Sue Miller, Franklin County commission chairwoman.

On Tuesday, Interior Department Secretary Bruce Babbitt toured the 51-mile stretch of river above Richland by boat and crossed the Arid Lands Ecology Reserve by bus. Before leaving, he made it clear that protecting the unique natural features of the area was a priority for the Clinton administration.

Babbitt's stance was applauded by Washington environmental groups.

"This is a shining moment to protect this national treasure," said Bill Arthur at the Sierra Club in Seattle. He urged politicians to stop fighting federal agency efforts to create a long-term protection plan for the best fall chinook spawning ground in the Columbia Basin.

"It's time to save this amazing natural resource," he said Friday. "Who will really benefit from holding off on this deal? Not salmon. Not children. And not communities."

Babbitt said a recommendation to the president could be made by the end of June, giving county commissioners a few weeks to research ways to forestall a federal mandate.

"Anything is being considered," Miller said after her closed-door meeting with the lead commissioners from Benton and Grant counties. "We're trying to assess our position ... to just strategize and look into all kinds of alternatives."

Even before Babbitt arrived, counties tried to forestall monument designation by appealing to President Clinton for a personal visit before issuing an executive order.

Among their chief concerns are expectations for county fire control and police support at the monument, public access to land and water and the future of development as Hanford is cleaned up.

County staff likely will be looking across the country at communities near national monuments to see what kinds of legal challenges have been raised and if any have been successful. They should have no trouble finding allies - Clinton's use of the Antiquities Act to create monuments has raised hackles across the West.

"We are just going to be visiting with some of those other areas to find out how they dealt with basically this huge federal land grab, how it impacted them and how they reacted," said Deborah Moore, Grant County commission chairwoman.

County leaders fear national monument status will not allow for enough local direction on how the lands are managed. The land under consideration already is under federal control as part of the Hanford reservation and its buffer zone.

Moore said the counties are planning to try to rally political support at the local, state and federal levels before deciding what to do.

But a lawsuit isn't the only idea commissioners are studying.

They also are considering ways to help develop the federal management plan that will address land and water use in the national monument.

"We need to be prepared if this designation does come down to bring forth our concerns and our issues in the management plan," said Benton County Commissioner Max Benitz Jr.

Mike Lee
Counties Seeking Reach Strategy
Tri-City Herald, May 20, 2000

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