Gregoire has much to teach Inslee about Hanford site

For the first time in 24 years, the Tri-Cities won't have Chris Gregoire watching its back.

It's not a prospect that inspires confidence.

Yes, her record of service to the state -- as director of the Department of Ecology, attorney general and governor -- isn't perfect.

Her lukewarm response when Areva was considering Richland for a major manufacturing plant remains a sore spot with many in the Mid-Columbia.

But her legacy isn't limited to that one lapse four years ago.

She has demonstrated a keen interest and depth of knowledge about the Mid-Columbia that has served us well, despite the political differences that separate her from a majority of the region's voters.

She was an important advocate for converting Washington State University Tri-Cities to a four-year school and for launching the Mid-Columbia's biotechnology initiative, a combination that has positioned the Richland campus and the neighboring Pacific Northwest National Laboratory to be leaders in an emerging industry.

Gregoire lent critical support to the Tri-Cities Research District and to efforts to make Red Mountain a major draw for wine lovers.

She has served as an effective cheerleader for the Mid-Columbia's remarkable array of agricultural products, but especially our wines.

Hanford cleanup hasn't had a stronger, more knowledgeable advocate in state government than Gregoire.

It didn't surprise us to learn that she devoted part of her final weeks in the governor's office to meeting with Energy Secretary Steven Chu and going over his plans for completing the vitrification plant.

It's entirely in keeping with an emphasis on Hanford cleanup that has kept environmental restoration at the site a statewide priority for more than two decades.

Gregoire literally wrote the book on cleanup as one of the authors of the Tri-Party Agreement, the pact between the state Department of Ecology, the Environmental Protection Agency and DOE, which outlines plans for Hanford cleanup.

In the 23 years since the document was signed, she has played a key role as state attorney general and as governor in forcing federal compliance with the agreement.

We don't doubt that incoming Gov. Jay Inslee will keep the state focused on the cleanup effort, but his years in Congress, including a term representing Central Washington's 4th Congressional District, are no match for Gregoire's expertise.

If he hasn't already, Inslee should identify the key Hanford experts in Gregoire's administration and entice them to stay on the job.

He still will be starting way down on the learning curve compared with Gregoire, but the more continuity in vision and knowledge he can muster, the better for the Northwest.