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Originally published Sunday, April 6, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Agencies kicked off Rattlesnake Mountain; Hanford cleanup funds needed

Tribal concerns and the need to spend Hanford cleanup dollars on the Rattlesnake Mountain road led to a decision to end private use of the...

Tri-City Herald

PORTLAND — Tribal concerns and the need to spend Hanford cleanup dollars on the Rattlesnake Mountain road led to a decision to end private use of the mountain, according to the Department of Energy.

"It is a sacred site," said Gabriel Bohnee, who represents the Nez Percé tribe on the Hanford Advisory Board.

The board discussed DOE's decision to clear the mountain of structures, including communications equipment and a nonprofit observatory, last week in Portland.

The issue came up when board member Pam Larsen, who represents Richland, read a list of concerns from residents after eviction notices were sent to 12 agencies using the mountain.

The tribes that historically used the mountain — which is in the security perimeter of the Hanford nuclear reservation — want it protected, along with Gable Butte and Gable Mountain in the production portion of the reservation, said Doug Shoop, deputy manager of DOE's Hanford Richland Operations Office.

The Nez Percé, Yakama and Umatilla tribes and the Wanapum band share a common history with Rattlesnake Mountain that goes back more than 9,000 years, said Armand Minthorn, who represents the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Reservation on the board.

Because the mountain was included in Hanford's security perimeter, most of it remains in nearly pristine condition.

The mountain is closed to the public, but it's the home of a telescope in an observatory built by Battelle Memorial Institute in 1971 for astronomical research.

Battelle donated the observatory to the nonprofit Alliance for the Advancement of Science Through Astronomy (AASTA) in 2005.

AASTA and agencies that have communications leases on the mountaintop must reach it via a locked gate and a steep and winding one-lane road.

The road has been a problem for DOE, Shoop said. The only money it has to maintain the road comes from funds intended for the cleanup of contamination at Hanford.

The public was "blindsided" by the decisions that tenants must leave the mountain and remove man-made structures as their leases end, according to the comments Larsen compiled.

DOE has stressed that it plans to work with AASTA and other agencies to allow enough time to find places to move their structures and minimize costs.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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