Waiting for the Fall
Last year, Renyel and William Doremus carved out their little piece of oasis amid Eastern Washington’s vast and sundrenched arid lands. Despite the recession elsewhere, the young couple built a new house in the sagebrush-studded lee
of Badger Mountain in Richland. They could pose for a Gap ad as the all-American family: clean-cut, involved parents,
smiling children, family baseball games and trips to Disneyland.
Renyel works as a hairdresser and William helps clean up the Hanford Nuclear Reservation. Their new abode even sports a cozy home salon where Renyel can receive clients. But lately, Renyel says, those clients have been talking of putting off buying houses they’re qualified for, delaying parenthood and looking for new employment. Renyel and William themselves are saving like squirrels.
“I had blood drawn today,” Renyel says. “I’ve noticed my anxiety has gone up; my mind doesn’t shut off at night.”
Anxiety like Renyel’s is rippling through the seemingly bucolic Tri-Cities. It’s discussed in marital beds and quietly between
workers in early-morning carpools.
Thousands of workers—3,000 as of December 2010—were hired for projects at the Hanford site when the government
cleanup project received about $1.96 billion of federal stimulus money. Most of that funding has been spent and the rest is set to be used by September. Some Hanford contractors have already announced layoffs of up to 1,600 workers come fall. Coupled with the end of the stimulus are forecasts of a lean federal budget for scheduled cleanup at Hanford and an unsteady future for scientific work at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland. Families of Ph.D. scientists and union electricians alike are scrambling to figure out what the next move may be. Many near-retirement workers were hoping for buyouts or early retirement packages, but federal contractors have signaled that regular layoffs at Hanford will be more likely. And if that’s true, more freshly trained and young workers will be sent looking for new opportunities beyond the site.
This flood of change worries shop owners and restaurateurs in the Tri-Cities area of Kennewick, Pasco and Richland. They’ve been expanding their businesses the past few years. Even late on a weeknight, it can be hard to get a table at Katya’s Bistro and Wine Bar in Richland. James Hartley and his wife, Maryna, own and run it. Maryna often scrutinizes the plates coming out of the kitchen and James can usually be seen chatting with regulars over his selections of newfound Washington