Forum to talk future of Columbia River shoreline
One of my greatest pleasures living in the Tri-Cities is cycling through parkland along the Columbia River from north Richland to Sacajawea State Park at the east end of Pasco.
Significant parts of these shoreline areas are actually owned by the Army Corps of Engineers. In 1996 Congress authorized transfer of about 1,400 acres to local governments. But these lands remain leased, not transferred, because local governments would have been obligated to pay both administrative costs and maintenance and replacement costs for levees on those lands, and officials were unwilling to take on those burdens.
There has been renewed energy by local officials to have these lands reconveyed back to local ownership. Almost all local government entities as well as local business groups have enthusiastically supported returning these lands to full local control.
Gary Petersen, the retired vice president of federal programs for the Tri-City Development Council, has said “This is the most underutilized shoreline in the U.S.”
Our three cities spend about $2 million annually to maintain the shoreline parks, but cannot make changes without Corps approval. The levees along the river were built well before a number of the upstream dams, and are much taller than currently needed, blocking views and access.
There have been several recent public forums regarding reconveyance of this land back to local governments. Despite the enthusiasm of government officials and business groups, there are local residents who are concerned about the consequences of this action.
Open space and park land along the river corridor are highly valued and contribute to the quality of life in the Tri-Cities. The Corps manages the entire shoreline area with concern for environmental impact and habitat preservation. After reconveyance, environmental review would be done piecemeal without considering the entire system.
Some citizens are also concerned about financial liabilities (and hence taxes) that would be associated with ownership of the land and levees. These include replacement of a pump station ($18 million) as well as normal maintenance ($1.3 million per year). Furthermore, they are wary of the motives of local business interests — will the shoreline change from park land to rows of condominiums?
Although there has been extensive discussion within the Tri-City community, there has not been consultations by federal, state or local governments regarding reconveyance with the Umatilla Tribe, who retain sovereign treaty rights and cultural interests along the Columbia River.
Our upcoming Badger Club forum will explore these different perspectives, and provide an update on what the next anticipated steps are in resolving these contentious issues.
Our speakers will be: Gary Petersen, a community advocate and one of the initiators of the Columbia River land conveyance request; Don Sampson, the former Tribal Chairman of the Umatilla Tribe; and Jim Wise, a member of Alliance for a Livable and Sustainable Community.
This is a great opportunity to learn about an issue that can greatly impact what the Tri-Cities looks like in the future, and (if you are a club member) add to the dialogue by questioning our panel members.
The Columbia Basin Badger Club is a nonpartisan Tri-City organization that is dedicated to civil discourse on topics important to our region.