Tri-City Herald: DOE should have held State of the Hanford Site meeting

The Department of Energy has done a disservice to the state in general and the Tri-Cities in particular when it decided not to hold a State of the Hanford Site meeting this year.

This decision opened the door for four Northwest environmental groups to hold their own meetings on the state of Hanford, but the Tri-Cities is not part of the circuit. That means other communities have a public opportunity to discuss Hanford issues, but not the the one with the most at stake.

The four groups taking over DOE’s role in leading discussion on Hanford cleanup are Columbia Riverkeeper, Hanford Challenge, Heart of America Northwest and Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility — organizations who traditionally have had their own agendas regarding Hanford issues.

In addition to these four Hanford watchdog groups, the discussion panels at Spokane and Vancouver also included representatives from the Washington Department of Ecology and the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

This makes DOE’s perspective even more glaringly absent.

Two of three state of the site meetings already have been held. The first in Spokane reportedly attracted only 10 people. In Vancouver, however, about 100 people showed up for the March 28 gathering, according to Dieter Bohrmann, Ecology’s lead for Hanford public involvement.

The third meeting is scheduled from 7 to 9 p.m. in Walla Walla on April 29, at Whitman College.

DOE officials said they did not plan to attend any of these unofficial meetings, which were scheduled in communities that have not had many Hanford gatherings in the past. However, the Tri-Cities is the community most affected by operations at the Hanford and would have benefited the most from a public discussion about the site. DOE officials said they plan a public budget workshop at 5:30 p.m. April 28 at the Richland Library, and many of the topics that would be discussed at a state of site meeting can be discussed at that time.

This seems like a poor substitute, especially since budget meetings traditionally don’t have the same give-and-take as a state of site meeting. But since it appears to be the only opportunity Tri-Citians will have, DOE should ensure plenty of time for public comments.

DOE’s site meeting held in Richland last spring drew a crowd of 250 with questions about preserving Hanford’s shrub steppe wildland, protecting workers from tank vapors and a variety of other topics.

This open format has a tendency to encourage a wide-ranging discussion, which may put DOE officials on the defensive.

But that is exactly why these meetings are important and should be held. If Tri-Citians have that many varied questions for DOE, then they should be given the chance to get answers.

DOE officials made a poor choice in canceling this year’s program. We hope they will try to make up for it at the budget meeting April 28 in Richland.