Our Voice: Richland’s agreement with Umatillas shows progress

Any time the tribes are willing to talk to a government entity and put an agreement in writing, we call it progress.

While any development is still a ways off, the city of Richland wanted to start discussions with the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation regarding expansion at Columbia Point.

And the city council recently approved a memorandum of understanding, creating guidelines for future development of the area south of Interstate 182.

Any project planned near the riverfront is almost always subject to scrutiny by the tribes. The new agreement will require the city to notify the tribes if it plans to build anything within a quarter mile of the river.

As many will remember, the tribes asserted their considerable influence when it came to the original site of the Reach center, which had been planned for the east side of Columbia Point South at the confluence of the Yakima and Columbia rivers.

That location was scrapped in large part because of objections by the tribes, who cited the cultural significance of that location to its members and ancestors.

Richland was able to rebound and find an acceptable location for the center on the west end of Columbia Park.

But the Columbia Point South site is in Richland’s sights, because Columbia Point on the other side of the freeway has seen significant development and is largely built out.

City officials were expected to travel to Pendleton last week to tribal headquarters to continue discussions.

Next on the list of big hurdles for the city would be to get approval from the state Department of Transportation to put a road under the freeway.

While the city doesn’t have specific plans for what it would do with Columbia Point South, it could be similar to what has been done north of the freeway.

With a mix of restaurants, hotels, condos and park space, fronted by the river and trail system, that area has become a bustling hub of activity and a success, though it took more than a decade to realize its potential.

The city will create a master plan for Columbia Point South, and the tribes will surely weigh in on any project within the prescribed distance from the river’s edge.

And while this is an agreement of sorts with the tribes, it’s not binding. It’s better than a handshake, but either side has the freedom to back out.

But it’s a step. A step in the right direction.