Kennewick mulls purchase of Columbia Park land

By Kristi Pihl, Tri-City HeraldMarch 2, 2014 

Playground Dreams Rebuild 04

The city of Kennewick and the Army Corps of Engineers are in preliminary discussions about transferring 61 acres of Columbia Park from the Corps to the city. The area would include the fishing pond and the Playground of Dreams and the large grassy area west of the playground

TRI-CITY HERALD FILE

KENNEWICK -- Kennewick may try again to own part of Columbia Park.

City staff and the Army Corps of Engineers have been discussing whether some of the Corps-owned park can be sold to the city.

The 61 acres would include the fishing pond, the Playground of Dreams and the large grassy area west of the playground.

The city leases the park from the Corps and maintains it. But owning part of the park would give more flexibility for development there.

Maxine Whattam, Kennewick's community services supervisor, told the Kennewick City Council last week that restaurants or some retail businesses could be possible on city land. But no habitable buildings such as a hotel would be allowed.

But it's too early to know what would be involved in a transfer of land or even what it might cost the city.

It's not the first time Kennewick has explored ownership of Columbia Park.

In the mid-'90s, Kennewick asked the Corps to consider transferring Columbia Park to the city. Congressman Doc Hastings R-Wash., proposed the transfer, along with some other federal lands to local agencies. The law, signed by former President Bill Clinton, also allowed the cities to lower the levees along the Columbia River.

About the same time, the 9,300-year-old skeleton of the Kennewick Man was found and the Corps was coordinating archaeological research by teams from Washington State University and the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation.

That discovery sparked a nationwide controversy among Native American tribes and parts of the scientific community after scientists insisted they needed to study such remains if they are ever to understand the earliest inhabitants of North America.

After six years of wrangling, the Kennewick council in 2003 decided to back off efforts to get the park and instead get a 50-year lease to manage it.

Mid-Columbia governments worried they could be responsible for any similar discoveries, according to Herald archives.

Whattam said that's still an issue if Kennewick becomes the owner of part of the park.

It costs the city about $600,000 a year to maintain the 356-acre park, Whattam said. That includes upkeep on buildings, fencing, gazebos and playground equipment, cleaning bathrooms, mowing, along with providing water and utilities.

The city receives about $100,000 a year in park fees for events and rentals.

That includes park fees from car sales held in the park, which is something the Corps has continued to allow because of the transfer discussions.

The council recently agreed to work with the Corps to get legal descriptions and parcel descriptions for about 61 acres. That research alone will take about a year, Whattam said.

The city will be paying the Corps about $14,000 for that work and an administration fee.

The council will be updated throughout the process and can decide to stop discussions at any point, she said.

Evelyn Lusignan, Kennewick's customer service manager, said the city would want to get input from the community and other agencies and groups affected, including tribal officials, before making any development decisions.

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