The city of White Salmon's effort to derail the establishment of a new tribal fishing site in the riverfront district has apparently stalled.
Mayor Roger Holen had been optimistic that U.S. Rep. Brian Baird, whose district includes the White Salmon area, would find a way to intercede on the city's behalf. The city is engaged in an effort to keep a nine-acre parcel available for future economic development.
However, Holen said the letter he received from Baird earlier this month dashed those hopes.
The letter, signed by Brian Baird and addressed to Mayor Holen, explained that it is basically too late to overturn the White Salmon project now.
"The way I read between the lines is, the only way to do anything would take a lot of effort, so [no thank you] very much," said Holen.
The land at issue is located on the Columbia River, directly east of the Hood River Toll Bridge and south of RV Bridge Park. A portion of the parcel extends east to State Route 14. The property, which was owned by Bob Kim and was on the market for several years, was sold to the Army Corps of Engineers for $800,000 in a transaction that closed in May.
The Corps will eventually transfer the land to the Bureau of Indian Affairs, which will manage it as a tribal fishing area.
"As you know, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is obligated to provide six tribal in-lieu fishing sites along the Bonneville Pool," Baird wrote. "As the Corps does not have condemnation authority in this case, these sites must be purchased from willing sellers. In an attempt to meet the legal obligation, the Corps has purchased a fourth property, the Kim property, with the intent to establish an in-lieu fishing site."
After receiving the letter, Holen said the city has run out of options.
"The bottom line at this point, if our federal representative won't go to bat, there is nobody else to ask," Holen said. "At this point, all we can do is sit back and wait until Doc Hastings becomes our representative and see if he has better ethical sense than Baird does."
U.S. Rep. Hastings currently represents Washington's 4th District. After Jan. 1, however, Klickitat County will move from the 3rd District into the 4th District -- represented by Hastings -- due to the redrawing of congressional boundaries based on the 2000 census.
"Rest assured, we'll be contacting Hastings on Jan. 1," Holen said.
Baird declined to comment on Holen's contention that Hastings might provide more help on the matter. However, Baird said the federal government's obligation to provide in-lieu fishing sites was a responsible one.
"This is part of a long-standing legal agreement between the tribes and the government to establish in-lieu sites," Baird explained. "Look, the tribes lost a great deal of traditional fishing habitat [when the Columbia River dams were built], and they were promised sites where they could fish. I understand there are concerns about how the sites are maintained and maybe something can, and maybe should, be done about that. But that is a separate matter as to the right to establish such sites."
In his letter, Baird referred to a meeting held at the Park Center on May 9. At that meeting, representatives of the city, county, and the Port of Klickitat met with congressional staff members and officials from the Corps of Engineers in an effort to have the Kim property in-lieu project overturned. Baird noted that the ideas suggested would take time to implement.
"These ideas included clarification of previous legislation, transferring federal lands between federal agencies, providing waivers for purchasing contaminated land for restoration, and increasing operating and maintenance funding for the Corps to help the Bureau of Indian Affairs maintain the in-lieu facilities," he wrote. "I will continue to explore these legislative options. However, all of these ideas will likely take extensive research, debate, and time to properly address the issues involved. I understand the purchase of the Kim property by the Corps for an in-lieu fishing site is a contentious issue for the city of White Salmon and the Port of Klickitat. However, as this is part of a long-standing legal agreement, I cannot compel the Corps to breach its contract to purchase this site."
Holen said he wanted the federal government to pass a retroactive new law that would allow no more than one in-lieu site within any one city's urban growth boundary. With the planned new site, White Salmon now has two.
Baird promised that no more tribal fishing sites would be located in White Salmon.
"The Corps has assured me that the remaining two sites needed will not be located in White Salmon," he said.
George Miller, project manager for the Corps of Engineers, said it was "unlikely" that any additional land would be sought in the Bingen-White Salmon area following the Kim purchase.
Miller said the tribes and the Corps were previously looking at the Mt. Adams Loggers site on Bingen Point, but are no longer interested.
"It's on the back burner. We're not discussing it further," Miller said.
Miler added that two sites were currently under consideration for possible tribal fishing locations: Wyeth, Ore., and Dallesport.
Miller said the new White Salmon site would be designed in fiscal year 2003, with construction not likely until 2004 or 2005.
"We plan to work with the city and the community to mitigate any impacts related to the in-lieu site," Miller said.
Holen expressed anger about the latest purchase.
"One thing that upsets me is, on the first in-lieu site [directly west of the Hood River Toll Bridge], we did not offer any objections and were very cooperative to make it go smoothly," Holen explained. "It just goes to show, no good deed will go unpunished."