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The Manhattan Project National Historical Park has finally cleared a major hurdle. The proposed legislation passed the United States House of Representatives last week and must now go to the Senate and to the president for his signature.
The historic project would include nuclear activities Los Alamos, Oak Ridge, Tennessee and Hanford, Wash. These were the three facilities that had the most to do with development of the atom bomb, the most world-changing event of the 20th century.
House members from all three states have been working hard on the measure for two years and the same will happen in the Senate.
The bill failed last year when it was included in a group of measures designated for expedited passage. Those bills required a two-thirds favorable vote. The Manhattan Project bill vote fell just short. It had over a two-thirds vote this time.
This year, the bill was attached to the National Defense Authorization Act. Such games are played in Washington. Few bills seem to pass on their own merits. They have to be tied to other measures containing goodies for other members of Congress.
In the Senate, the bill will go through more hearings where many additions and subtractions will be made. If it passes the Senate, the bill will go to a House-Senate conference committee where differences will be ironed out.
If the Manhattan Project survives all that, the National Defense Authorization Act will go to President Barack Obama for his decision. As it stands now, the president will not sign the bill. His reasons have nothing to do with the historical park. They involve other defense-related items in the bill such as keeping Guantanamo open and closing some defense operations in the United States.
The chief sponsor of the Manhattan Project bill is Rep. Doc Hastings of Washington State. He is chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, which gives him considerable power.
Hastings also included the transfer of more than 1,000 acres of unused Hanford land to a local economic development project.
Other major co-sponsors are Rep. Ben Ray Luján, whose district includes Los Alamos and Rep. Chuck Flieschmann, whose district includes the Oak Ridge facility.
Now that the bill is in the Senate, New Mexico Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich will be involved in helping move it along.
The legislation provides that the historical park will be established within a year as part of the National Park system. It specifies the facilities and areas at each of the locations that will be eligible for inclusion in the park.
Nearly all these facilities and areas already are owned by the federal government under the purview of the Department of Energy.
The measure requires coordination and cooperation between the Park Service and the Department of Energy to ensure safe and secure access to these locations.
The establishment of the Manhattan Project National Historical Park is supported by the Department of the Interior, the Department of Energy and the National Park Service.
It also enjoys bipartisan support in both houses of Congress.
So if the historical park fails to become a reality, it won’t be because it is not an acceptable idea. And its sponsors say it won’t be because of cost. The government already owns the land and facilities.
Many of the facilities now are unused and ready to be torn down at a greater cost than preserving them. It will be because of the extraneous matters, often called poison pills that are thrown in.
The historic sites not only will be invaluable in providing perspective to the decision to develop the bomb, it will be a big tourism boost to the areas involved.
It is unfortunate that the military will only allow public access to Trinity Site, near the northern edge of White Sands Missile Range, twice a year. The site of the first A-Bomb explosion would be a great tourist draw to Southern New Mexico.
Jay Miller is a syndicated
columnist based in Santa Fe.