Our Voice: State dismissing Tri-City concerns over Hanford cleannup

Tri-Citians have the most to lose if officials with the state and the Department of Energy fail to negotiate new Hanford cleanup deadlines.

Yet our voice is the one that has been shut out from the conversation.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee met with community representatives earlier this year, but apparently was not swayed by their concerns. While state officials say they are considering all options, allowing a judge to intervene and make key cleanup decisions appears likely.

That's not the result we want.

The latest consent decree dispute resolution deadline expired earlier this month, and we are in the middle of a 30-day period in which either party can file a motion in federal court that puts Hanford cleanup deadline decisions before a judge. They have until Oct. 5 to make that request.

So far, DOE and the state have been unable to hammer out their differences, so it is presumable they will go to court.

Tri-Citians are worried once the court is involved there is a risk much of the cleanup work at Hanford will come to a halt until the judge makes a ruling. Our concern has been dismissed by state leadership, however, even though we have the most at stake in the outcome.

And it could take up to a year or more for the issue just to get on the docket, regardless of assurances by the state that it will be resolved quickly. When lawyers are involved, there's no telling how long a court ruling might take.

At issue are the deadlines over emptying waste from certain leaking tanks and the construction and operation of the vitrification plant being built to treat the waste, including that the plant be at full operation in 2022.

DOE has missed its milestone deadlines and the state has finally said it would not extend them any more.

While it is understandable Inslee and Attorney General Bob Ferguson are fed up with DOE's continuous delays, we would rather continue making what progress we can instead of waiting for a court decision.

There are other pressing cleanup issues, including projects close to the Columbia River, that may be delayed because of the governor's refusal to drop his focus on tank deadlines.

Those include radioactive sludge in the K-West Basin and large amounts of waste sitting in degrading containers in the 200 Area.

The state needs to look at Hanford cleanup as a whole.

But Inslee and Ferguson apparently don't agree with the community that has to live closest to the Hanford reservation.

The ramifications of the collapsed discussions will have a huge negative impact on the Tri-City community, but the state is focused on keeping its unrelenting, narrow position.

Inslee should listen to the constituents most affected by his decision.