Draft plan looks at future of public access to Hanford

The Hanford Reach National Monument provides a great opportunity to hike through the region, giving hikers a chance to view beautiful sunsets and wildlife. A draft plan was released Monday by the Tri-City Development Council and the Tri-Cities Visitor and Convention Bureau for more public use of Hanford as land in cleaned up.

The Hanford Reach National Monument provides a great opportunity to hike through the region, giving hikers a chance to view beautiful sunsets and wildlife. A draft plan was released Monday by the Tri-City Development Council and the Tri-Cities Visitor and Convention Bureau for more public use of Hanford as land in cleaned up. Tri-City Herald photo

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KENNEWICK — Officials unveiled a draft community “vision” Monday for recreational opportunities — hiking, biking and camping just north of the Tri-Cities — that could be opened up by environmental cleanup at Hanford.

Imagine multiple points along the Columbia River where a boater could pull off at Hanford, someone could take a multi-day hike along the river or people would have limited access to the top of Rattlesnake Mountain, officials said.

Upcoming meetings

Public meetings to discuss and collect opinions on a draft community plan for Hanford recreational use are scheduled for:

2 p.m. Nov. 18 at the Bechtel Board Room, Tri-City Business and Visitor Center, 7130 W Grandridge Blvd., Kennewick.

7 p.m. Nov. 18 at the Richland Community Center, 500 Amon Park Road.

7 p.m. Nov. 19 at the Franklin PUD, 1411 W. Clark St., Pasco.

For more information Public meetings to discuss and collect opinions on a draft community plan for Hanford recreational use are scheduled for: w 2 p.m. Nov. 18 at the Bechtel Board Room, Tri-City Business and Visitor Center, 7130 W Grandridge Blvd., Kennewick. w 7 p.m. Nov. 18 at the Richland Community Center, 500 Amon Park Road. w 7 p.m. Nov. 19 at the Franklin PUD, 1411 W. Clark St., Pasco.

“We’re asking the community to envision a different future for Hanford,” said Derrick Smith, senior vice president of MacKay Sposito, a Kennewick engineering consulting firm.

The Department of Energy plans to complete most Hanford cleanup in the 220 square miles along the Columbia River by the end of 2015. Most cleanup in the security zone around Hanford already is finished. That will leave the remaining environmental cleanup concentrated in 75 square miles at the center of the nuclear reservation.

DOE plans have called for some Hanford land to be used for industrial development, but most to be set aside for preservation and conservation of desert shrub steppe habitat.

“This is a great time to start a dialogue on what some controlled public access to portions of that land could look like over time,” said Colleen French, DOE government programs manager.

The Tri-City Development Council hired MacKay Sposito in January to develop a community proposal for using Hanford land for outdoor recreation, based in part on public meetings in 2010 to hear what Tri-City area residents wanted to see the land used for eventually. The work was paid for by TRIDEC, the Tri-Cities Visitor and Convention Bureau and URS Corp., which holds Hanford contracts.

The draft community plan will be discussed in community meetings this month. Then a version will be prepared for the approval of Hanford area governments, including cities, counties and ports, and used to show federal leaders what the community envisions.

It’s a once-in-a-generation opportunity to talk about what Hanford public access could look like during the next 50 years, Smith said.

“This is not tomorrow,” he said. “But it is coming.”

If the community does not put forth a plan for DOE, U.S. Fish and Wildlife and Congress to consider, other groups will, said Carl Adrian, TRIDEC president. TRIDEC and the visitor and convention bureau are hoping that other groups, such as environmental and outdoor organizations, will add their support.

Hanford was used to produce plutonium for the nation’s nuclear weapons program during World War II and the Cold War, leaving the site, particularly its center, massively contaminated with radioactive and chemical waste. But the weapons project also left large portions of the 586-square-mile site untouched by nuclear production and preserved in its natural state.

Already the periphery of Hanford, once used as a security zone around the nuclear reservation, has been designated as the Hanford Reach National Monument, with access on some of it for hiking, wildlife viewing and boating.

The proposal developed by MacKay Sposito would expand public recreation on the monument. Highlights include a hiking trail to the top of Rattlesnake Mountain, turning the road that runs along the base of Rattlesnake Mountain parallel to Highway 240 into a trail, and adding a trail into Saddle Mountain Lake.

But the biggest changes would be on newly cleaned areas of the production portion of the Hanford nuclear reservation, south and west of the Columbia River where it crosses the site.

A hiking and biking trail of about 80 miles is proposed from north of Richland, largely following the river, to the area of the Vernita Bridge rest stop. Stops along the way would provide information on native people, settlers, Hanford nuclear history, the present ecology, geology and the Ice Age floods.

Launches are proposed along the trail for nonmotorized boats to complement launches for motorized boats on the other side of the river, said Bryan Cole, MacKay Sposito vice president of design.

Campgrounds would be added, with more primitive camping in northern areas of Hanford and a commercial-style campground just north of Richland, with space for RVs and amenities that could include a swimming pool and miniature golf.

Just north of Richland, where the signs of torn-down buildings line the Hanford 300 Area fence, a memorial plaza could explain Hanford history and serve as the trailhead and the entrance to publicly accessible Hanford land.

A route for tour buses — and possibly public vehicles — would include stops at historic sites in a proposed national park being considered by Congress. They would include Hanford’s historic B Reactor and the few buildings still standing that were left by settlers evacuated by the federal government to make way for the top-secret production of plutonium during WWII.

“With the strong possibility that parts of Hanford will become important elements of the Manhattan Project National Historical Park, the community needs to plan for increased visitor traffic, and opening even small parts of Hanford to public access will complement the national park ... and become a tourism magnet,” said Kris Watkins, president of the visitors and convention bureau.

She sees potential in mixing outdoor recreation with history and culture.

The first project that could be undertaken in just a few years is a trail of about seven miles along the river from near the former Hanford town site to the old White Bluffs ferry landing. For the less ambitious, it would include a loop in the White Bluffs area taking in the ferry landing and the old bank building.

The plan now is just a starting point for discussions, with no hard and fast design details or financial specifics. Supporters say it’s a chance to “dream big.”

“It’s a vision. There are a a lot of square miles out there and this would take it 20 to 50 years down the road,” Watkins said.

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