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Manhattan Project Park stays alive

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Legislation > Overcomes major hurdles in Congress

By Arin McKenna

Passage of the Manhattan Project National Historical Park Act (H.R. 1208) in the U.S. House of Representatives last week was a major hurdle en route to the park’s fruition.
A companion bill in the Senate (S. 507) has also passed the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.
Similar bills introduced last year were unable to get out of committee in either chamber of Congress.
“We’re further along than we’ve ever been, so we’re excited about that,” said Heather McClenahan, Los Alamos Historical Society executive director and the county’s point person for the MPNHP project.
According to McClenahan, the question now is how to get S. 507 through the full Senate.
Attaching it to the National Defense Authorization Act passed the bill passed in the House. The most unlikely possibility is that the Senate will take up the House version and pass it, since the Senate has already passed its own rendition of the defense spending bill.
Supporters are hoping to attach S. 507 to the Senate version of the National Defense Authorization Act, which should assure its passage.
“The park is still going to be a national park, part of the Department of the Interior, in conjunction with Department of Energy, but it does make some amount of sense to make this part of the defense spending bill, because it was a huge military project,” McClenahan said. “It’s not one of these weird amendments about fish or something that gets attached.”
If the bill passes as an amendment to the Senate’s Defense Authorization Act, the House and Senate bills will then go to conference committee for differences to be worked out. The park legislation would be attached to the final bill, which should assure its passage through both chambers, as well as getting President Barack Obama’s signature.
All those advocating for passage of the bill, including the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the National Parks Conservation Association and the Atomic Heritage Foundation, are optimistic about final passage this summer. However, no timeline has been set since Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources staff members are all still trying to work out exactly how the bill is going to go to the Senate floor. Scheduling is also difficult because Congress takes considerable time off during the summer.
McClenahan warns that even after Manhattan Project National Historical Park legislation is enacted, it will take some time for the park to become a reality.
“The excitement of getting the bill passed is wonderful, obviously, but we still have to remember that once the legislation is signed that it’s not an instantaneous thing,” McClenahan said.
The bill allows a one-year period for the Department of the Interior and the Department of Energy to come to agreement on buildings such as the B Reactor at Hanford, Wash. and the Gun Site at Los Alamos National Laboratory.
“That shouldn’t be hard because they’ve essentially already come to an agreement as part of the study legislation,” McClenahan said.
The park management plan will be more of a challenge. The National Park Service will most likely be allowed three years to develop interpretive plans and decide such things as where to locate visitor centers, how to direct visitors to various sites and how to deal with an influx of traffic to the town sites.
With such widely dispersed locations, the logistics of this park will likely be challenging.
“First of all, you’ve got non-contiguous parks. You’ve got Hanford, Los Alamos and Oak Ridge. So that, in and of itself is fairly unusual for the park service–not unprecedented, but fairly unusual,” McClenahan said.
“Then you’ve got, even within each of the sites, non-contiguous things, like in Hanford, the B Reactor is far away from the City of Hanford. Here we’ve got sites behind the fence. Is there a way that we can move the fence at Gun Site so that people will be able to access that? And that is very far away from Fuller Lodge.
“This is not a small project, so there are going to be some challenges. But I’m very hopeful that we as a community can come together and help the park service through this process. I think we have a lot of excitement about bringing people here to learn our history.”
McClenahan views none of those challenges as insurmountable.
“There’s a lot of logistical details to work out, but there’s nothing bad,” McClenahan said. “It’s all exciting.”