Tri-City efforts to gain control of the Columbia River shoreline have fluctuated for decades, but this latest attempt appears to have a force behind it we have not seen before.
We hope that makes a difference, and that this time the struggle is successful.
Former U.S. Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Pasco, former Kennewick Mayor Brad Fisher and Gary Petersen of the Tri-City Development Council are trying to gather communitywide support for legislation that would direct the Army Corps of Engineers to return 34 miles of shoreline to the Tri-Cities.
The spark re-ignited, according to Fisher, two years ago when U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., attended the dedication of the Reach center at Columbia Park. Fisher said he asked Murray about returning the rivershore to local control.
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She reportedly encouraged the community to unite behind a plan she could consider. So with that, Fisher, Hastings and Petersen have been pushing to make that happen.
They have been meeting with as many local government representatives and community leaders as possible. They also have enlisted the help of Hasting’s successor Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Wash., and hope he will be able to push through a bill that would allow the shoreline to be transferred legislatively, and not through the complicated review process the Corps already has in place.
The waterfront is typically the main attraction in communities fortunate enough to have one. But ours may be the most under-utilized shoreline in the country.
The Corps acquired the Tri-City riverfront 68 years ago and built levees in response to the devastating flood of 1948. Since then, nine Columbia River dams have been built upstream — six in the U.S. and three in Canada. With these dams in place, the chance of another catastrophic flood is nonexistent, according to Petersen and the rest of the group.
So Corps oversight really isn’t necessary anymore.
In addition, the Tri-Cities spends about $2 million maintaining some of the Corps-owned property anyway. More improvements could be made, however, if the community had authority to make them. Fisher said Kennewick officials can’t even replace dead trees without getting Corps approval first.
If the communities had control of the shoreline, recreational opportunities could be vastly improved, Fisher said. There also could be some light development along the river to offset maintenance costs.
But this idea has caused some rumblings in the community by citizens worried the riverfront could end up lined with condos and hotels.
That would be a travesty. Any kind of venture along the river should ensure public access to the water and protect as much open space as possible.
But that improved access will never happen as long as the Corps is in charge of the property. The federal agency typically restricts access rather than encourages it.
Hastings said the time is right for the Tri-Cities to push for the land transfer now because Congress seems more receptive to the idea of turning federal lands over to local control. The U.S. Department of Energy, for example, transferred more than 1,300 Hanford acres to Tri-City officials at no cost last year. Transferring the shoreline from the Corps could be modeled in the same way.
The potential along the shoreline is untapped, and momentum is building for local control. It’s time for the community to be in charge of its best asset.