Our Voice: Time for DOE to release unused Hanford land

As we usher in a new era in the 4th Congressional District with today’s election, the retiring office-holder continues to champion clean-up at Hanford.

We only hope Doc Hastings’ successor understands the importance of fighting the many battles with the federal government surrounding Hanford.

While there’s no doubt it would be shameful for the government to gut the budget for Hanford work outside of the tank farms and vitrification plant as has been rumored in the upcoming fiscal year, Hastings also recently questioned why the government hasn’t given back land that is no longer needed at the complex.

The decision regards what to do with 1,600 acres of unused land at Hanford which has sat idle for more than four years, even though it is earmarked for industrial use. Hastings questioned why it hasn’t been returned to the community for economic development.

As we’ve learned at Hanford, decisions never come quickly but this is a planned use agreed upon by the Department of Energy. Yet the land continues to be out of anyone’s reach.

In a visionary move, our community submitted a proposal for use of lands that will soon be ready to be returned to public access for activities that include hiking, biking and camping on 220 square miles of land along the banks of the Columbia River. Clean-up on that land is expected by the end of next year, if budgets allow for the project’s completion.

Hastings — and many in the Tri-Cities — believe local communities should be the drivers of what happens to land taken by the federal government decades ago that is now ready to be returned to citizens.

The Tri-City Development Council hired a consultant and held public meetings to look at potential uses for the land in a forward-thinking move, the kind of proactive action seemingly foreign to our federal government.

It was basically a blueprint to show the government we are ready to take our land back and we have productive uses for it based on community input. But, thus far, no action has been taken.

Of course nothing is ever simple when it comes to dealing with government and the return of the land is layered with agencies and departments who don’t always have the same goals in mind or show much interest in the wishes of the people.

One of the key roles for our new member of the U.S. Congress will be to listen to the people who live here and fight the fight to fund Hanford clean-up and get the land that is clean and ready back to the people where it belongs.