Sen. Maria Cantwell visits Richland to talk Hanford B Reactor park bill

By:  Michelle Dupler
Source: Tri-City Herald

Hanford's B Reactor and two other Manhattan Project sites could take a step closer to becoming part of a national park next week in Congress.

A bill, introduced by U.S. Rep. Doc Hastings of Pasco, is set for consideration in the House Natural Resources Committee -- of which Hastings is the chairman -- Wednesday morning in Washington, D.C.

"I expect the committee will vote to favorably advance the bill to the full House for consideration," Hastings said in a statement. "A great many volunteers have been working for years to bring this idea into reality, and I'm pleased that progress is being made in the lawmaking process to preserve this amazing and important piece of our nation's history."

A companion bill co-sponsored by Sens. Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray had a hearing in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks in late June.

On Friday, Cantwell visited Richland to talk to Tri-City leaders about the bill and what a national park could mean to the community.

"Elevating B Reactor to a national historic park would expand visitor access and bring more tourism dollars to the local economy," Cantwell said at B Reactor tour headquarters. "National parks are a proven job creator -- and giving Hanford this designation will help honor the history and sacrifice of those who labored here. Hanford's B Reactor tells an important chapter in our nation's history and deserves preservation as part of a new national historic park."

The proposed park would tell the story of the start of the Atomic Age during World War II, including the role played by Hanford's B Reactor, which produced plutonium for the world's first nuclear bomb and the bomb dropped on Nagasaki, Japan, which led to the end of the war.

Manhattan Project facilities in Oak Ridge, Tenn., and Los Alamos, N.M., also are proposed for inclusion.

At Hanford, the park could include not only B Reactor, but also eventually T Plant, which processed irradiated fuel to remove plutonium, and buildings left by early settlers forced to give up their homes, businesses and farms to make way for the top-secret nuclear project.

Buildings that Hanford and White Bluffs residents left that still stand include Hanford High School, White Bluffs Bank, the Bruggemann stone warehouse and the Hanford Irrigation District pump house.

Cantwell said getting the national historic park designation would elevate Hanford to the same status as other historically important landmarks.

"B Reactor deserves to be in the same space, the same historic context as Independence Hall, Valley Forge and Lincoln's birthplace," Cantwell said.

Kris Watkins, president of the Tri-Cities Visitor & Convention Bureau, said having B Reactor become a national park would be a boost for tourism in the region.

"This is huge, I believe, for the nation and for each one of the Manhattan Project communities," Watkins said. "Needless to say, our local community will gain from a national parks presence."

Aaron Burks, owner of Monterosso's Italian Restaurant and Atomic Ale Brew Pub in Richland, said a national park would give visitors a way to experience the region's unique history.

"Visitors enjoy something unique," Burks said. "I have met countless visitors who come here for that reason. I have had many business visitors for (Hanford) cleanup. I'm confident many scientists around the world are wearing Atomic Ale T-shirts."

Richland City Councilman Bob Thompson said a national park would honor the story of the thousands of people who built a city in what was then Washington's remote desert and helped the nation win World War II.

"It's an absolutely amazing engineering feat that occurred," Thompson said.

Cantwell told the Herald it doesn't matter whether it's her bill or Hastings' bill that gets the votes first.

"Whichever one gets done first, we're happy," she said.