Lt. Col. Damon Delarosa, of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, did his job in his opinion piece on Sunday, June 24. From our perspective, what he left out is more important to our Tri-Cities community than what he wrote.
Delarosa stated correctly that in 1996 Congress authorized the transfer of some 1,380 acres of Corps-owned land along the McNary Pool to local Tri-City governments. He also correctly said that this specific bill — the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) of 1996 — requires local governments to pay all Corps administrative costs, compliance with environmental laws, cultural resources and land surveys for any transfer.
What he didn’t say was that in 22 years since WRDA was passed by Congress, even after repeated and costly efforts by our community, no land has been transferred.
In 2011 the city of Kennewick began discussions with the Corps to convey only 20 acres in Columbia Park. Negotiations began after the Corps gave Kennewick a “cease and desist” order on McCurley car sales in Columbia Park on June 23, 2011. Kennewick has been working, and paying for Corps time, for almost seven years on full conveyance of 70 acres in Columbia Park.
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Despite repeated and costly attempts by our community, no land has been transferred.
While Delarosa said that “the Corps pays approximately $1.3 million/year to maintain levees and pumping stations,” his statement begs the questions — 1) What maintenance of the levees? 2) How many pumping stations, located where; and 3) What is the current age and condition of each of these pumping stations?
The Corps stated, “Levee and ditch maintenance — removal of trees and shrubs, and noxious weed management, costs approximately $200,000 per year.” What removal of trees, shrubs or even ragweed that grows rampant along levee fronts?
Other than the beautiful trail that runs for some 27 miles along the levees and was completely financed by the community; we don’t believe there has been any actual levee maintenance performed by the Corps in the past 70 years.
Next, there is the Corps Safety Report released last spring that downgraded the Corps’ own estimate of the risk of any Columbia River flood along the McNary Pool, to its lowest level — low risk!
Even with very high waters in the Columbia this spring, the river flow was way below the bottoms of the Richland levees behind Howard Amon and Leslie Groves parks. The Richland Community Center would have been flooded before the Columbia waters reached the bottom of the levee by the Red Lion hotel.
In a letter provided to the Pasco City Council, the Corps itself said, “Levees presently show as accredited on FEMA maps. Certification of the levees to support Accreditation was never done.” Yet Delarosa states that the cities will have to pick up the costs of certification — of levees that are of little use for flood control, and the Corps never accredited.
The primary mission for the Corps maintaining control of the 34 miles of rivershore running through the Tri-Cities is for flood control. If flood control is no longer necessary (because five dams have been built upstream in the U.S., and three in Canada, since the flood of 1948), then the Corps has no reason, no mission, for continuing to own these properties.
There are many other issues that Delarosa forgot to mention, such as mitigation efforts the Corps requires of dock owners, or their requirements on the Water Follies to build new docks and complete environmental and cultural reviews before repairing damage caused by the recent high waters, or requirements for the cities to jump through hoops to replace existing sprinkler systems in the parks.
Yes, Lt. Col. Delarosa, we hope Congress acts, and returns our waterfront to local control after 70 years in Corps hands. The legislation we support bypasses WRDA and reconveys land by Congressional action.
Doc Hastings is a retired Congressman, Brad Fisher is a former Kennewick mayor, and Gary Petersen is the retired vice president of federal programs for the Tri-City Development Council (TRIDEC).