The Richland City Council plans a special meeting Aug. 26 with the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation to talk about the return of the Columbia River shoreline to local control.
The joint meeting also will cover issues related to Columbia Point South, Hanford lands and a tour of the HAPO Community Stage at John Dam Plaza.
Richland Mayor Robert Thompson has expressed support of the effort, led by former U.S. Rep. Doc Hastings, to lobby Congress to return the shoreline to local control to improve recreational and commercial access.
Hastings is teaming with former Kennewick Mayor Brad Fisher and Gary Petersen of the Tri-City Development Council.
The meeting is at 10:30 a.m. at Richland City Hall, 505 Swift Blvd., and is open to the public.
A proper review of the proposal will understandably take time, and to that end, we support other local governments that are currently pursuing such a transfer and remain steady to consider the details of the ideas as it pertains to the City of Richland as you can make them available
Richland Mayor Robert Thompson
The Benton-Franklin shoreline has been under federal control since construction of the McNary Dam drove the government to buy some land. Additional land was apparently acquired through condemnation following devastating 1948 floods.
Advocates say decades of federal oversight have severely curtailed access to the river and made it difficult for the region to capitalize on its greatest natural resource.
All three cities incur costs to manage Corps-owned land, with little authority to make long-term decisions. The three cities collectively spend about $1.2 million annually to maintain and operate parks and public facilities, including Richland’s Howard Amon Park and Kennewick’s Columbia Park. Richland spends about $350,000 per year, Kennewick about $554,000 and Pasco $264,000.
Separately, they invest an average of $750,000 annually on capital improvements, including $130,000 for Richland, $250,000 for Pasco and $375,000 for Kennewick
The concept seems to be popular with local residents. More than 90 percent of the people who attended the Tri-City Chamber of Commerce monthly luncheon Wednesday in Kennewick said that they would support returning the shoreline during a presentation, according to Petersen.
But the plan has its detractors. Critics fear shifting control to local government will clear the way to crowd the waterfront with condos and other commercial development. The tribes have expressed concern that the loss of federal control could impact treaty rights and cultural resources.
The Army Corps manages the plan under the McNary Shoreline Management Plan, last updated in 2012. It could transfer the land under the 1996 Water Resources Development Act, which requires an extensive environmental review and restricts how the recipients can use the property.
The Hastings-led group wants Congress to bypass the act and simply transfer the property.
The U.S. House of Representatives took up the matter this spring when it approved the National Defense Authorization Act, which includes language directing the Corps to document the process it used to acquire the shoreline in the first place. Hastings’ successor, U.S. Rep Dan Newhouse, R-Sunnyside, inserted the language.
The elected leaders of the cities of Richland, Pasco and Kennewick, along with Benton and Franklin counties and the ports of Kennewick, Pasco and Benton, have expressed varying levels of support for asking Congress to return control of the shoreline to local government.