Planning the Manhattan Project Park’s future

IMG_5311The Manhattan Project National Historical Park was officially created on Nov. 10, 2015, when Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz and Secretary of Interior Sally Jewel put their signatures on the memorandum of agreement. The MOA directed how the two agencies would work together to develop the three-site national park.

Even though the park already exists, it’s still a long way from being what it will become. Those plans are just getting started, and that was the topic of a public meeting Monday evening and a flurry of activities by park leaders — including Tracy Atkins, who was named the park’s interim superintendent earlier this week.

IMG_5319“We’re working on our Foundation Document,” Atkins said Monday evening at a public meeting at Oak Ridge High School’s Food Court. That document will lay the foundation for the multiple layers of planning — identifying the park’s purpose, its significance and what should be included in the multi-site park.

The National Park Service urged those who turned out for the meeting to fill out comment cards and share their thoughts and suggestions about what’s important, which may influence the way the Manhattan Project is interpreted at the sites.

“What are the important stories from Oak Ridge that will feed into our interpretive theme?” Atkins asked. “What are those things that are important to protect? And then what experiences would people like to have in the park long-term?”

After spending a couple of days in Oak Ridge, the team planned to visit the other sites — Hanford, Wash., and Los Alamos, N.M.

There was a good turnout at Monday’s meeting in Oak Ridge, with some diverse thoughts.

IMG_5314Asked what was particularly important, Lloyd Stokes of the Oak Ridge Heritage and Preservation Association said, “The people stories.” He said the Oak Ridge park site should share stories that tell visitors about the impact on those people who were evicted from their East Tennessee homes to make way for the project as well as those people who came to Oak Ridge or returned to it to work on the big A-bomb project.

“Those stories are equally fascinating,” Stokes said.

Dan Robbins, chairman of Greenways Oak Ridge, said, “There are over 50 miles of greenways and biking trails in Oak Ridge. My suggestion was to incorporate as many of those as possible into the park.”

Oak Ridge City Manager Mark Watson said it’s going to take a while for a lot of the park plans to come to fruition, but he said Oak Ridge is a town that “likes to see progress” and he urged that near-term projects get some priority.

One possibility would be to accelerate completion of the museum portion of the preservation plans at the former K-25 uranium-enrichment site. “I think if there’s any way we can do that we should,” Watson said. “You’ve got support from the powers-that-be in Washington.”

The Department of Energy’s Office of Environmental Management is responsible for some of those activities as part of the deal that was reached between the government’s cleanup program and preservation groups that wanted to keep as much of WWII Oak Ridge alive as possible at K-25.

Koentop said he didn’t think the History Center was scheduled for completion in 2016, but he said DOE has about $6 million in funds available this year for preservation and commemoration activities. That includes money that’s being spent on design for the museum, he said.

DOE has already put online a virtual museum for K-25.

Ralph Hutchison, coordinator of the Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance, said he hopes the Park Service will tell all sides of the Manhattan Project story, including workers who were unwittingly exposed to hazardous materials in the workplace and those who died from the devastating atomic bombs.

“The Manhattan Project changed the world,” Hutchison said, adding that creation of the world’s first atomic weapon was used “to create incomprehensible human suffering” and led to an arms race that has cost trillions of dollars.

Atkins said developing the park will probably take three to five years, maybe even longer.

“We have all those DOE security issues to deal with (to get access to some of the historical sites, such as those inside the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant),” she said. “But we have a great opportunity to be really thoughtful about how we plan what experiences we want to share with the public. It’s going to take a little while to make that happen.”

The Park Service has $340,000 in funding to get things started in 2016. That doesn’t sound like a lot of money by government standards, but Atkins said it’s more than usual for a new park. “Usually, new parks get only $180,000 the first year,” she said. “So I think because we have three sites and lots of lobbying from local folks, we were able to get a little more. So we’ll put it to good use.”

DOE did not receive any money targeted for the park in the FY 2016 budget, but as noted earlier there is money in the EM program that will help with the park’s development.

Atkins said the Manhattan Project National Historical Park will probably receive dual funding from the NPS and DOE in the future, with the Department of Energy likely to shoulder the greater funding burden.

“Because DOE will continue to own the properties and be responsible for maintenance on them, and security and access and historic preservation,” she said. “So DOE will always have a responsibility for those buildings. Our responsibility is to interpret them.”

DOE and NPS will work together on how to interpret the World War II Manhattan Project facilities and artifacts.

Atkins said she couldn’t predict what annual costs will be needed to support the three-site park in the future.

“I couldn’t tell you right now. It’s too far down the road, and it’s hard for me to differentiate what the Park Service and DOE will do,” she said.

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