One of the biggest assets our community has is miles of riverfront. It’s also one of our greatest weaknesses.
For a city with this much water frontage, we are sorely lacking in activities and attractions along the shoreline.
When you visit another city next to water, that’s where you are drawn — restaurants, recreational activities, shopping, people-watching, idling away a sunny afternoon with friends on a deck with a view.
We have a great trail system along the water’s edge, and Columbia Point gives us a glimpse at what could be someday with its hotels, restaurants, marina and recreational pursuits.
But the Tri-Cities has been unable to pursue that opportunity because the federal government owns the riverfront. And that makes everything so much more complicated.
Development has been stalled over the years because it’s too hard to work with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
As a result, we have miles of shore but few ways to enjoy them other than on foot or bicycle.
The city of Kennewick is taking another run at waterfront development, seeking local control of a part of Columbia Park. The city already operates and maintains Columbia Park but must do so within the confines of an agreement with the Corps. It costs the city about $500,000 to maintain the park each year, but restrictions on use limit the city’s ability to generate revenue to help offset those costs.
Kennewick believes light development like a restaurant would go a long way toward underwriting annual park operations. But it can’t realistically develop the park without local control and ownership. The city is not envisioning a shoreline covered in commercial development, just the kind of amenities that complement the natural beauty and recreational opportunities that come with waterfront property.
If the Corps agrees to convey the 60 acres back to the city, it will require an environmental and archaeological study. The cost of both will be borne by Kennewick. The city would pay the appraised value of the land, and the whole process could take years. We applaud Kennewick for taking the initiative and taking on what we know will be a daunting task.
The Corps should work to expedite the process and return the land to the public. The Corps took the land following a historic flood in the late 1940s and erected the levies to protect residents against future flooding. Since then, dams have been built and flood control measures have made the levies, and Corps oversight unnecessary.
Turning over ownership to local governments is the right thing for the Tri-Cities, not just Kennewick. There are costs and risks involved in the long path ahead and the city is currently seeking ownership of all Corps property. That’s a measured approach to the opportunity. We hope Pasco, Richland and our two counties will follow Kennewick’s lead and at least consider the value of pursuing local ownership of Corps lands.