Editor’s note: Today’s editorials originally appeared in The Columbian and The Walla Walla Union-Bulletin. Editorial content from other publications and authors is provided to give readers a sampling of regional and national opinion and does not necessarily reflect positions endorsed by the Editorial Board of The Daily News.
Oregon’s decision to join discussions regarding the Interstate 5 Bridge is cause for cautious optimism.
Legislative leaders in that state have appointed eight lawmakers to a bistate commission for reviving efforts to replace the antiquated bridge. That is a step in the right direction, considering that the project has been dormant since Washington lawmakers killed the Columbia River Crossing proposal in 2013. Washington had previously announced an eight-member committee that includes six legislators from Clark County.
In the wake of Oregon’s announcement last week, several thoughts spring to mind:
- Peter Courtney, president of the Oregon Senate, provided what should be the mantra for the project. “We don’t have time to play cutesy political games,” Courtney told The Columbian. Committee members from both states should keep that in mind as they try to avoid repeating the debacle of six years ago, when Washington pulled the plug at the last minute.
- It seems curious that Oregon’s committee members include one from Portland and one other from the metro area. Three members represent areas far removed from Interstate 5, and we hope that lawmakers there have a firm understanding of the statewide importance of replacing the bridge. The Washington delegation consists of Southwest Washington lawmakers plus the chairs of the transportation committees in each chamber.
- Sen. Ann Rivers, R-La Center, is a member of the Washington delegation, despite playing a key role scuttling the Columbia River Crossing six years ago. Some might dispute her inclusion, but we believe it makes sense. Including a variety of views and welcoming dissent will be important to devising a project that can generate broad public support.
- Oregon officials appear understandably gun shy from past experience. “Now is the time to accept Washington’s invitation to participate in a formal process to secure this critical regional corridor,” Courtney wrote to his committee co-chairs. We wish that time had arrived several years ago, but it is difficult to blame Oregon leaders for employing caution; fool me once ... and all that.
Keeping nuclear waste cleanup moving forward a sound decision
The cleanup at Hanford of 56 million gallons of highly radioactive waste stored in underground tanks — many of which are leaking — must go on.
Wisely, the U.S. Department of Energy took action that ensures work will continue without disruption. The DOE opted to extend two of the major environmental cleanup contracts for up to a year, rather than putting new contracts into place before they expire this fall.
The Tri-City Herald reports that the extensions mean cleanup work being done by about 5,000 workers will continue uninterrupted. If new contracts were signed now, the current contractors would have to slow work during a transition period if a new contractor was coming onboard.
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Given these are multi-billion dollar contracts, the scale of the projects are enormous. Slow downs — or sharp U-turns — can cost taxpayers millions.
“Evaluations of proposals for follow-on contracts, the Tank Closure Contract and the Central Plateau Cleanup Contract, continue in earnest,” according to a DOE memo sent to Hanford employees Tuesday. “Extension of the current contracts would only be in force as long as needed after award of new contracts and transition periods to the new contractors.”
New contractors typically hire the majority of the former contractors’ workers, the Herald reported.
That reality also makes this move a wise one. A shuffling of paperwork should not slow down a project that’s already been delayed far too long.
The cleanup is critically important to the nation, the region and the state. The fact that Walla Walla is 66 miles away from the nuclear reservation weighs on the minds of many in this Valley — and for good reason. It has been reported, for example, that 67 of the tanks filled with radioactive waste have confirmed leaks, and they are buried relatively close to the Columbia River.
Cleaning up this radioactive nuclear waste is a federal responsibility. The U.S. government established the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in the 1940s for national defense purposes.
Just a little less than year ago, the federal government increased spending on the cleanup project, which is running at least 25 years behind schedule. The final spending legislation signed by President Donald Trump increased the Hanford budget to $2.4 billion, a $15 million increase above the previous spending level.
It was progress, just like this week’s decision to extend the contracts to keep the cleanup effort going in the proper direction.