Source: Tri-City Herald | Annette Cary | April 1, 2015

The Port of Benton is looking at two north Richland areas to propose for the site of a visitor center for the new Manhattan Project National Historical Park.

There appeared to be general agreement at the port commission’s meeting Wednesday to propose one site on the Columbia River and another on Stevens Drive.

Favorites at this point are property owned by the port on the south side of Battelle Boulevard along the Columbia River, and on the northwest side of the intersection of Stevens Drive and Horn Rapids Road. The property across Stevens Drive from the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory campus could be part of the parcel the Department of Energy is required to transfer to the community.

The port is part of the recently formed Tri-Cities National Park Advocacy Committee to represent the Tri-City area’s interests as DOE and the National Park Service work together on the new national park.

National park officials are expected to visit Hanford this month to see B Reactor and other historical sites on the nuclear reservation that could be included in the new park. The park will feature facilities at three sites where research or manufacturing were done to create the world’s first nuclear bombs to help end World War II — Los Alamos, N.M., and Oak Ridge, Tenn., in addition to Hanford.

The agencies that make up the community advocacy committee have been challenged to prepare information on what each could offer to support the new park. The committee includes representatives from Richland, Kennewick, Pasco and West Richland, the counties of Benton, Franklin and Grant, the Port of Benton, Visit Tri-Cities, Tri-City Development Council and B Reactor Museum Association.

Building a visitor’s center is likely a project several years in the future and a general location has not been picked yet. There’s a possibility it could be built near the Vernita Bridge over the Columbia River, which is not far from B Reactor. Other Tri-City sites also might be proposed, although they would not be near probable main entrances to the park.

Port Commissioner Robert Larson said he’d like to see the visitor’s center in the north Richland area.

The final decision on where it will be likely will be made by federal officials after hearing input from the local advisory committee.

The port has looked for sites that could be either on land to be included in the national park or at the north Richland entryway to it.

The site should have space for a 10,000-square-foot building and 190 parking stalls, said Roger Wright of RGW Enterprises, an engineering consultant to the port. It also would need space for tour buses that would carry visitors to Hanford’s historic areas.

Three sites on Stevens Drive have been suggested, with the port generally favoring the one that could be part of unused DOE Hanford land released to the community for economic development. DOE is required to release 1,600 acres of unneeded land near north Richland for economic development by the end of September, but no announcement has been made on the exact location of the acreage.

The site would have to be set back from Stevens Drive because of the railroad and electric transmission lines there. It also has the drawback of no utility service, which would be costly to add, Wright said.

Four sites either on or near the river have been proposed.

The favored site on the river at Battelle Boulevard would require a turn off the main north-south road to Hanford, Stevens Drive. But it has the advantage of a river view and close access to the Navy barge slip. Some boats could use the barge slip if a ramp is available there for passengers, Wright said.

The Army Corps of Engineers has identified places were floating docks are allowed on the Columbia River, with the closest site to the south at Washington State University Tri-Cities, he said.