Washington may lose grant for boat ramp near Paterson

A grant to build a new boat ramp along the Columbia River might be headed out to sea because of federal delays.

For years, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife has sought to place a concrete boat launch near Paterson, where a shallow earthen ramp is the only river access for 27 miles between Plymouth and Crow Butte Park, said John Easterbrooks, the state agency's regional program manager.

He thought the answer might have come in a $494,000 grant from the state Recreation and Conservation Office.

But Fish & Wildlife has to get a land-use agreement with the Army Corps of Engineers Portland office by the end of July or it will lose the grant funding, Easterbrooks said. And getting the agreement hasn't been an easy task.

"It's like beating our head against the wall trying to get people in Portland mobilized on this," he said.

Fish & Wildlife officials thought that a 2003 land-use agreement gave them the ability to build a boat ramp, but learned at a meeting in December 2012 that the Corps didn't feel that way.

In a Wednesday email to John Hansen in Fish & Wildlife capital and asset management, Corps realty specialist Amanda Dethman drove the agency's position home.

"First, I want to be clear that there is no existing lease," she wrote. "We are in the process of evaluating WADFW's proposal to determine if the lands are available for the requested use."

Preliminary feedback shows that the boat ramp project also might have conflicts with the master plan for the area of the river blocked by the John Day Dam, Dethman said.

"There are still many issues that are pending in our evaluation, which does not look favorable for your proposed construction timeframe," Dethman said.

Corps spokesman Matt Rabe said the lease application process takes about a year to complete, and also includes a $50,000 administrative fee charged to the Fish & wildlife department. That would cover the environmental review, as well as staff time and hiring outside help.

The lease application requires cultural and public reviews. It also must be cleared with the Bureau of Indian Affairs, which has right of first refusal to make sure that Columbia Treaty Tribes don't have an interest in the property.

"It just makes sure all the proper documentation, checks and considerations are made before the property is put to new use," Rabe said.

In a reply email sent late to Dethman on Thursday afternoon, Hansen wrote that the Corps has reviewed documents submitted by Fish & Wildlife and plans to recommend denial of the boat ramp.

"This project has been in the works for many years and has already had a lease in place so it is difficult to understand how it does not fit in the master plan," Hansen wrote.

Fish & Wildlife is to U.S. Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Pasco, to get him to intervene in the boat ramp dispute.

"If this stands ... you can kiss a new public water access site/boat launch at Paterson goodbye," Easterbrooks wrote to Barb Lisk in Hastings' office. "Clearly, the Portland District Real Estate Division is not interested in working with WDFW in a timely manner to provide this valuable infrastructure improvement for our constituents ... pretty sad state of affairs."

Hastings spokesman Neal Kirby said the congressman's policy staff is aware of the issue.

"We have checked in with the Corps of Engineers on the latest status of the boat launch and are waiting to hear back from them," Kirby said.

-- Geoff Folsom: 509-582-1543; gfolsom@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @GeoffFolsom