Tri-Citians hoping to convince Congress to return control of the Columbia River shoreline to local government are undaunted by word that U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D.-Wash., will not automatically support their efforts.
Former U.S. Rep. Doc Hastings, R.-Wash., former Kennewick Mayor Brad Fisher and Gary Petersen, vice president for federal matters for the Tri-City Development Council have enlisted almost every Tri-City government, civic and business groups in the movement to shift control of the shoreline away from the Army Corps of Engineers.
They argue that local control will boost public access, improve recreation and give local jurisdictions a say in management of their most important assets. It could lead to some commercial development on the river as well.
The movement began in 2014 in part because of comments Murray made to a small group of business leaders following the June 30 dedication of the Reach enter in Columbia Park.
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It is paramount to the congressman that efforts to move forward now have the united commitment of the community, ensure public access, and protect the taxpayers.
Rep. Dan Newhouse
Fisher asked Washington’s senior senator if it wasn’t time to return the rivershore to local control.
While memories of the meeting differ, all sides agree Murray encouraged the community to unite behind a plan and bring it to Congress.
This week, her office clarified that the senator wants to hear from advocates, but must consider input from all stakeholders, including tribes and environmental groups.
Fisher and Petersen say they’re ready to finalize their proposal to both Murray and to Rep. Dan Newhouse, R.-Wash. Newhouse issued a statement Tuesday offering his support.
Fisher said he’s eager to take the next step and is not concerned about the change in tone from Murray’s office.
“We’re about ready to wrap this up and say, ‘Sen. Murray, Rep. Newhouse, we have the support’,” he said.
(Sen. Patty Murray) looks forward to reviewing their proposal and discussing it with them and others to determine the best path forward and how the federal government can be the best partner for the community.
Statement from Murray’s office
The movement to convey the shoreline back to local control is endorsed by the elected leaders of Benton and Franklin counties, the three cities, the Port of Pasco and other groups including TRIDEC, the Tri-City Regional Chamber of Commerce, Pasco Chamber of Commerce and Tri-City Association of Realtors.
The Port of Benton is expected to review it in May. The Port of Kennewick wants to confer with its river partner, the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, before taking a position. Tribal leaders are reviewing an inquiry by the Herald regarding the tribes’ views.
The Corps of Engineers has been in charge of the shoreline since devastating 1948 floods compelled the federal agency to step in to manage flood risk. Local cities absorb the $1.4 million annual cost to maintain the shoreline, including parks.
Local control advocates say the Corps’ flood control mission no longer exists — five new upstream dams mean a flood of 1948 proportions is unlikely to reoccur.
The Corps has said there is a process for transferring federally owned lands that includes numerous reviews, but advocates hope to convince Congress to approve a simple transfer. Support from Washington’s congressional delegation is critical.
Fisher believed he had that support when he began the movement nearly two years ago after the fateful Reach meeting, he said.
“Had I heard anything different, I don’t think I would have spent as much time getting Doc (Hastings) involved and Gary (Petersen) involved and engaging the community to get behind it.”
Murray’s office applauded the coalition that has formed around the shoreline issue.
“Sen. Murray encouraged members of the community to work together to come up with a plan and she is very glad that so many people have been working so hard to pull together their ideas. She looks forward to reviewing their proposal and discussing it with them and others to determine the best path forward and how the federal government can be the best partner for the community.” it said in a statement.
Newhouse, who is expected to introduce shoreline legislation, issued a separate statement in response to an inquiry from the Tri-City Herald to clarify his support.
“Congressman Newhouse wholeheartedly supports local control over local lands,” it says. “Congressman Newhouse looks forward to continuing to work with the community on this initiative.”
The pitch to Congress began this week with Petersen traveling to Washington, D.C. His agenda: He’s presenting Murray’s staff with a list of shoreline supporters.