Pasco & Kennewick: Two Towns, Two Bridges, Toxic Sludge


North of the Oregon/Washington border, several towns cluster around the Columbia River.  As you head towards Spokane, you’ll pass through two of them, Pasco & Kennewick.

I felt the need to drive around and explore these two towns, but as I did, the urge quickly went away.  Maybe it was because it was Sunday afternoon, but I developed a sense that there wasn’t much happening in these two cities.  The most impressive sights, it appeared, were the two bridges that span the Columbia, connecting the towns.  So, that’s what I photographed.

One of the bridges is steel, which carries US 395 (so you’ll definitely cross this one)…

 … and the other is a cable-stayed suspension bridge, also known as the Ed Hendler Bridge.  This bridge is to the east of the steel bridge, and carries WA Rte. 397.

If you’d like to make a loop through the two towns, and across both bridges, here’s how: cross the Columbia on US 395, and at the end, turn onto Lewis St.  Follow it to 10th, and turn right.  This will take you across the cable bridge.  Hang another right onto Columbia Drive, and you’ll end up back at the foot of the steel bridge again.

You’ll find a good view of the cable bridge on Clover Island. Just watch for Clover Island Drive off Columbia Drive, in Pasco.

So why do the towns of Pasco, Kennewick, and nearby Richland, even exist?  They’re all home to the people who work at the nearby Hanford Nuclear Reservation, home to the most polluted site in North America.  Hanford is a former nuclear weapons plant, that now houses 53 million gallons of radioactive sludge, underground, in leaky tanks (just 7 miles from the Columbia River, no less!)

But wait, it gets worse.

Since 1989, the government has spent $4 Billion dollars (that’s with a capitol “B”, you’ll notice) to build a factory that will turn the sludge into radioactive glass.  Not only has it not produced a single piece of glass, it isn’t even built yet.  The completion date was originally set at 1999, now it’s 2019.  That’s your tax dollars at work!

You can read more about the seemingly endless debacles and delays at Hanford, in this LA Times article.

Once you’re done crossing bridges and pondering toxic waste, get back on US 395 and head north. You’ll eventually run into I-90, for the drive into Spokane.

Note: This trip was first published in 2006.  Much of the same area was covered in the Big Sky trip in 2014.

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