State’s new manager hopes to offer fresh look at Hanford’s challenging issues

As the new manager for the state of Washington’s Nuclear Waste Program, I appreciate the opportunity to reach out and introduce myself to the Tri-City community.

I’ve been on the job at Nuclear Waste for the past several months, but I’m not new to this area or its economy and concerns.

I’m a 50-plus year resident of Central Washington with a diverse background, including economic development, business ownership, corporate community and government relations. And I served seven years as a county-wide elected official.

We raised our family here, and I assisted my grandmother with cattle and harvesting hay to support her herd beginning at the age of 15, up until she sold everything in 2004 so she could officially enjoy retirement. 

My rural upbringing, role models and work experience have served me well at the Washington State Department of Ecology the last five years.

I came to the agency as the Water Quality Section manager in the Union Gap office, where we provide service to seven central Washington counties – Benton, Yakima, Klickitat, Kittitas, Chelan, Douglas and Okanogan.

I learned a lot about permit writing in the last five years and brought my diverse perspective to a team focused on technical assistance working toward behavioral change.

I officially started as Nuclear Waste Program manager on Dec. 16, 2020, but I’ve been absorbing everything Hanford since mid-November when I was offered the job.

I knew it was a complex project with diverse points of view inside and outside of the local community.

The U.S. Department of Energy provided a tour of the site in late January, which helped immensely to provide a visual perspective for all I’ve been learning through reading, listening and briefings from inside and outside the nuclear waste program. 

My role is taking shape and looks much like I expected, with a mixture of the policy, legislative activity and relationship building I experienced as a Kittitas County commissioner and the permitting/technical assistance role I had in Water Quality.

Relationships can always be better and need continuous attention. Some tension is normal between a regulator and a permittee – the key is to work toward keeping the tension healthy while providing overall public confidence in the end results. Those relationships are high on my list to establish and maintain.

As we look at the next year, new leadership at Ecology in Richland and in Olympia provide opportunities for a fresh look at some of Hanford’s more challenging issues.

I also note relatively new leadership within the U.S. Department of Energy with a specific mission to start treatment and reduce life cycle costs. At our Richland office, we are recruiting to fill vacant positions to be responsive, proactive and to support the progress on site. 

It is an exciting time to be involved at Hanford with the Direct Feed Low Activity Waste facilities transitioning from construction to operational testing; the ongoing work to demolish and properly dispose of hundreds of buildings; and the successful and continuing treatment of billions of gallons of groundwater on an annual basis.

All my conversations have revealed a shared goal of success in an efficient and safe cleanup at Hanford. Friction comes in the different perspectives of how to get there. My hope is to bridge those gaps, find the common ground and address the larger issues one at a time. We can’t fix what we don’t talk about.

I continue to learn more about the site and about relationships that need to be built. I’m open to and welcome the perspectives anyone would like to share with me. 

I’ve received a warm welcome from so many and look forward to working through the challenges and opportunities.

 

David Bowen is the Washington State Department of Ecology’s Nuclear Waste Program manager.

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