Effective Involvement

During WWII and the Cold War there was no public involvement process at Hanford.  It was a secret place with secret activities.  Phones were tapped. In the early days if you worked at Hanford and you were caught saying the word plutonium you and your family would probably not be around the next day.  Things have changed since we entered the era of cleanup in the early 1990’s.  This is thanks in large part to agreements and regulations put in place once cleanup started, and collaborative efforts to move beyond that era of secrecy.  Part of that process was to ensure the public had a way to weigh in on decisions about what to do with the massive amounts of waste leftover from plutonium production.

For cleanup actions under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) and the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA, aka Superfund) the public gets a public comment period to see proposals for cleanup and the plans DOE prefers.  Sometimes these entail formal hearings around the region, sometimes webinars, and sometimes no meetings at all.  Unfortunately a lot of the documents that pave the path to decisions at Hanford are super dry and hard to understand.  In general it is better to do early education about the issues before the “Proposed Plan for the Remediation of the 200-CW-5, 200-PW-1, 200-PW-3, and 200-PW-6 Operable Units” is offered to you for your comments.

Right now there is a comment period underway to get input on the Tri-Party Agencies (Dept. of Energy, EPA and Dept. of Ecology) revised Public Involvement Plan. It outlines ways you can be involved in Hanford Site cleanup decision-making processes and serves as the overall guidance document for public participation and outreach activities at Hanford.   It is supposed to be updated every five years but that doesn’t really happen.  The Say What? Guide lists upcoming public meetings and resources to help you craft your comment. Comments are due November 28, 2011.

Another effective public involvement venue is the Hanford Advisory Board (HAB). It started in 1994 to create a regular and formalized process for a diverse body of stakeholder interests to weigh in on cleanup policy through a consensus-based advice writing process.

Through the HAB’s Public Involvement Committee, I led a process over the course of a year to look at the elements that make public involvement successful in general and then talk through ways to bring more effective strategies to Hanford public involvement.  The result was this piece of advice which, when it was published, I hoped would influence the Public Involvement Plan which at that point was called the Community Relations Plan.   The HAB also weighed in in November for the current comment period on the Public Involvement Plan. You can check out that advice here.

Public involvement at Hanford leaves a lot to be desired, which is another reason we started Inheriting Hanford, to give folks some more accessible ways to learn about one of the most massive cleanup projects on the planet.  We have a long way to go.

By: Liz Mattson

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