Inslee visits Red Mountain project

By Kristi Pihl, Tri-City HeraldSeptember 26, 2013 

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee surveyed Thursday the skeleton of the intake structure that will deliver Yakima River water to prime wine grape growing land on Red Mountain near Benton City as soon as next summer.

Inslee, who wore a gray hard-hat with the Washington State University logo, listened to Kennewick Irrigation District officials and Pacific Crest Construction employees explain of the benefits of the almost $20.2 million project.

In the background, an excavator dug into the future site of the booster pump station for the project that will bring water to 1,785 acres.

"It's a miracle," Jim Holmes told Inslee. He's the owner of Ciel du Cheval Vineyard on Red Mountain.

Yakima River water means longevity for growers on Red Mountain, said Holmes, who has been farming since 1975. He uses well water to grow a variety of wine grapes for about 25 different wineries.

And while he has managed to grow wine grapes with the water he can pump, he said the river water will bring security to his vineyard and others.

The best part, he said, is it's a project that the tribes, state, irrigators and municipalities could agree on.

It's also a project that couldn't have happened without support from Derek Sandison, director of the state Department of Ecology's Office of Columbia River, said Patrick McGuire, KID board vice president. It was Sandison who helped KID secure $10 million in no-interest loans from the state.

Property owners within the local improvement district will pay the cost of the project. KID is one of the landowners, with about 554 acres of its property receiving water. However, KID has hired Musser Bros. Auctions and Real Estate of Pasco to auction off its Red Mountain property.

KID looked at the water it actually was using and compared it to its water rights, Sandison said. Because the city of Kennewick has become more urban, and homes are where orchards once were, water is available for irrigating Red Mountain.

The new intake structure and pump station near the intersection of Highway 224 and Demoss Road means KID can leave the water in the river longer, which helps fish, said Jason McShane, KID's engineering and operations manager.

One of the benefits of the system is that sediment from the river water will be screened out before the water is sent on through the irrigation system, said Paul Cross of Richland's RH2 Engineering. That will save energy and be a cost savings for the farmers who will use the system.

The project also will allow more acres on Red Mountain to grow wine grapes, boosting the economy, McGuire said. There are not only the jobs that will be added to farm the vineyards, but also those involved in winemaking and associated industries including tourism.

"I'll brag about you guys," Inslee told KID officials.

The wine industry benefits the entire state, Inslee said. The state has the growers, the water, the soil, the wineries, the marketing and the ports that makes it work, he said.

But the missing piece is improvements to the transportation system that not only moves bottles of wine but also allows tourists to access the area, Inslee said.

That's why projects such as the proposed new Red Mountain interchange on Interstate 82 and safety improvements to Highway 12 between Pasco and Walla Walla are so important, he said. That's a part of the reason Inslee said he's hopeful that with bipartisan support, legislators can pass a transportation package.

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