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Port of Kennewick adds voice to shoreline return campaign

Tri-Citians hope to convince Congress to return control of the Columbia River shoreline to local government. The Port of Kennewick voted Tuesday to support a private effort seeking the transfer.
Tri-Citians hope to convince Congress to return control of the Columbia River shoreline to local government. The Port of Kennewick voted Tuesday to support a private effort seeking the transfer. Tri-City Herald file

The Port of Kennewick will support efforts to return 34 miles of Columbia River shoreline to local control, more than 60 years after the federal government took ownership.

The three-member port commission voted unanimously Tuesday to support the movement to ask Congress to reconvey ownership of the Benton-Franklin shoreline to local agencies, possibly counties, cities, ports or a combination of all three.

The port stopped short of endorsing the plan. It said it agrees the issue is worth discussion and specified the conversation must include the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Reservation, which have expressed concern that transferring the shoreline out of federal ownership could affect treaty rights and tribal resources.

“We applaud you for asking these questions,” it said in a letter to organizers.

Former U.S. Rep. Doc Hastings, a Pasco Republican, is headlining the private effort with former Kennewick Mayor Brad Fisher and Gary Peterson, vice president of federal affairs for the Tri-City Development Council or TRIDEC.

The government acquired much of the shoreline for flood control after the Columbia spilled its banks in 1948 and flooded parts of the Tri-Cities. It later added to its holdings by purchasing land in connection with construction of McNary Dam.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers manages the land under the McNary Shoreline Management Plan, last updated in 2012. There is a process to transfer government-owned lands that involves extensive reviews. Hastings favors a simple transfer in Congress.

Hastings and his team argue that local governments are better able to manage the shoreline in concert with local wishes.

The shoreline plan has been supported to varying degrees by the Benton and Franklin county commissions, the cities of Richland, Kennewick and Pasco and the Port of Pasco. The Tri-City Chamber of Commerce, TRIDEC and other business groups also have supported the movement. The Port of Benton has not yet voted.

In May, the U.S. House approved the National Defense Authorization Act that included language directing the Army Corps to document the process it used to acquire the shoreline in the first place. The language was inserted by Hastings’ successor, U.S. Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Wash.

U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., has said she will consider the plan with input from all stakeholders.

Wendy Culverwell: 509-582-1514, @WendyCulverwell

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