Momentum builds for Bateman Island access, marina

Tri-City Herald

The Port of Kennewick will add its voice to the Tri-City chorus asking the state to maintain public access to Bateman Island at the confluence of the Columbia and Yakima rivers.

The port is expected to join the city of Richland, Visit Tri-Cities and the Lower Columbia Basin Audubon Society.

All want the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife to preserve a link between the Columbia River shoreline and Bateman Island if it chooses to breach the dam-like causeway to improve habitat for salmon and steelhead at the mouth of the Yakima River.

The port commission will consider a resolution supporting fish habitat as well as access when it meets July 12, said Tana Bader Inglima, deputy CEO.

The fish and wildlife agency plans to begin formal discussions about breaching the causeway in 2017. The idea is being pitched by the Mid-Columbia Fisheries Enhancement Group, a White Salmon-based nonprofit that has harnessed government grants to fund research into habitat improvement for fish.

Local agencies are taking a stand now hoping that the final plan will include — and pay for — a new bridge as well as structures to protect the marina and boat facilities now sheltered by the causeway.

No one objects to improving water quality, but plans to breach the causeway alarms officials in Richland, as well as Visit Tri-Cities, the local tourism agency.

Without a replacement bridge and other structures, the move would cut off access to the island and potentially damage the Columbia West Marina and other boating facilities, none designed to withstand the increase in current.

The port’s efforts to improve fish habitat along the Clover Island shoreline could make it an important model for its sister island, said Bader Inglima.

The causeway was built more than 70 years ago to serve farms on 160-acre Bateman Island. The structure, on Columbia Park Trail just west of its intersection with Columbia Center Boulevard, creates a stagnant zone and contributes to warmer water temperatures that favor bass and other predators that feed on juvenile salmon.

Breaching it would reduce spring temperatures by an estimated 2 degrees Celsius. Summer temperatures at the confluence of the Yakima and Columbia could be reduced as much as 6 percent to 8 percent, which would make it easier for adult salmon to migrate into the Yakima, according to the fisheries enhancement group’s research.

Joe Schoessl, Richland’s parks and public facilities director, is making the rounds of Tri-City agencies to brief them on what’s at stake. Richland leases the island from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and operates it as a park. It is well used by hikers, walkers, picnickers and other visitors.

The Audubon Society routinely organizes bird watching tours. It has said it favors water quality improvements but wants the project to consider the effect on the species that live there as well, including shore birds and warm water fish.

Unleashing the natural river flow would add an estimated 1.9 knots of new river current through the Columbia West Marina, gas dock and public boat launch, a level they weren’t designed to withstand.

Schiessl said it’s important to weigh in early in advance of environmental and other reviews so that mitigation is included in the final plan.

The Mid-Columbia Fisheries Enhancement Group could not be reached Wednesday about the local concerns. The group has an annual budget of about $1 million. Government grants and contributions accounted for virtually all of its revenue.

Wendy Culverwell: 509-582-1514, @WendyCulverwell