The city of White Salmon got some news last week, and it wasn't the happy kind.
"We found out that the Corps of Engineers had purchased about nine acres of land on the riverfront, just east of Bridge RV Park, for yet another in-lieu site," explained White Salmon Mayor Roger Holen. "It was literally my worst day in six years of being mayor. I sat there stunned."
Holen pointed out that the property extends from State Route 14 to the Columbia River, and lies within the White Salmon city limits.
"That land has an underpass under the railroad tracks, and, within the city of White Salmon, is the only way to get to the riverfront from SR 14," Holen said.
Holen said he opposed the sale for several reasons.
"First of all, it takes nine acres of land off the tax rolls," Holen said. "Secondly, it devalues all the land in the Riverfront District. And there's now no opportunity for creating family-wage jobs down there. It's really pillaging the resources of the city of White Salmon. This takes away the only property zoned for light industrial use within the city limits."
The property being purchased is owned by Bob Kim.
According to Sandy Dean, Realtor for Century 21 Columbia Crest in Bingen, the property has been "on and off the market" since 1995.
The last listed price on the parcel was $865,000, but that figure does not necessarily represent the final price in the current transaction.
Holen noted that the Bingen-White Salmon-Hood River area already has several in-lieu fishing sites.
"I felt we'd already done our share, so to speak," Holen said.
However, a representative of the Corps of Engineers pointed out that federal law requires development of a certain number of in-lieu fishing sites on the Columbia River. The sites are designed to mitigate tribal members for the loss of their traditional fishing areas when dams were placed on the river decades ago.
"Legislation requires us to purchase six properties in the Bonneville Pool area," said Luke Elliott, public affairs specialist for the Corps of Engineers in Portland. "We're required to identify, purchase, develop, and transfer six sites in the Bonneville Pool that are not already on federal land."
The Bonneville Pool covers the area on the river basically from The Dalles Dam to Bonneville Dam. Six sites, which were on existing federal land, have already been developed. Those sites are: Cascade Locks, Wind River, Cooks, Underwood, Lone Pine, and Bonneville.
"Six more sites were needed through purchase," Elliott added. "Three are already completed: White Salmon, Stanley Rock, and Lyle. The new site in White Salmon would be number four. We're still looking for the other two sites. I'm not sure in what stage those are, but they have not been purchased yet."
The Corps also has been considering a purchase on land at Bingen Point, adjacent to the Port of Klickitat's business park.
Elliott explained that the focus of the new White Salmon site will be campsites, rest rooms, and fish cleaning areas, rather than direct river access.
"There will be no boat ramps or piers at the proposed new site," Elliott said. "That's the reasoning behind there being no water access on this one -- it lacks good access to the river and is not easily accessible. The property will be on the water, but it's mostly geared to upland use."
Elliott noted that the existing in-lieu site in White Salmon -- which is directly west of the Hood River Toll Bridge -- has seen a lot of traffic and congestion at certain times of the year. The new purchase is designed to support that site.
According to Elliott, the Corps is expected to start the design process for the in-lieu facility this summer, with construction starting in summer 2003.
"Actual construction will take six months to a year to complete," he said.
Once the project is finished, the land will be open for use by tribal members from a confederation that includes the Yakama Indian Nation, Umatilla, Nez Perce, and Warm Springs tribes.
Captain Jerry Ekker of Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fisheries Enforcement, based in Hood River, said the sites will be maintained by the Bureau of Indian Affairs after development by the Corps of Engineers.
He added that the new White Salmon site is geared toward wholesale fish purchases.
"That particular site is going to be more for commercial fish buying, especially in the fall," Ekker explained. "Buyers come in with big trucks to purchase fish."
According to Ekker, buyers come from Seattle, Portland, Canada, the coast, and elsewhere across the region.
"It just depends on the market," Ekker said.
Holen said the city is considering contesting the land sale.
"We're researching to see what can or can't be done," Holen said.
He pointed out there are other sites in the immediate area, and questioned why another would be needed.
"Why do we get four or five sites within three miles? Why are they putting them within urban areas? Did we complain the last time an in-lieu site was put here? No. Maybe that's why they're doing it again, because we didn't complain last time," he said.
Holen noted that the purchase severely complicates recent efforts to put in a new sewer line to the Riverfront District.
"With the in-lieu site, I'm not going to ask taxpayers to pay for any portion of a sewer line for another sovereign nation," he said. "And I don't think the property owners will pay for it either because their property has been devalued. The whole thing is up in the air."
Wil Keyser, director of the Public Works Department for the city of White Salmon, noted that the city had planned a town hall meeting for sometime in April to discuss options for a wastewater extension project into the Riverfront District as part of a Local Improvement District (LID).
Keyser sees the Corps' purchase of the land as likely derailing those plans.
"On March 27, the city discovered the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was closing on nine acres of land located within the proposed LID," Keyser wrote in an April 1 letter to landowners in the affected area. "This has put quite a kink into our plans for a wastewater extension. The nine acres was prime commercial development property that is now destined for a fishing in-lieu site. Until all of the ramifications of this purchase can be evaluated by staff and by our city attorney, we will not be making any decisions regarding a wastewater extension in the Riverfront District."
Robin Hale, owner of Bridge RV Park, said he was concerned the fishing site would impact his business.
"It's right to the east of me," Hale said. "What can I do about it? Shame to see all the commercial-industrial land go that way, but who's going to stop the federal government? They're too big and they have a lot of money to spend."