On May 9, an impressive lineup of political representatives gathered to hear a list of complaints related to the new in-lieu fishing site planned for White Salmon's riverfront district.
The Army Corps of Engineers recently completed the purchase of the Bob Kim property, a nine-acre parcel that wraps east and south of the RV Bridge Park business property off State Route 14. The $800,000 purchase cleared the way for development of a tribal fishing area, which is designed to complement another in-lieu site a bit to the west.
At the Park Center event, representatives of the city of White Salmon, city of Bingen, the Port of Klickitat, Klickitat County, the Army Corps of Engineers, and staff members from the offices of U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, and U.S. Rep. Brian Baird were present.
White Salmon Mayor Roger Holen made it clear from the start of the meeting that he was not happy with the idea of another tribal in-lieu fishing site being located within the White Salmon city limits.
Holen stressed that neither he nor the city object to the idea of in-lieu sites in general, and pointed out that the city did not raise any objections to the tribal fishing site that recently went in west of the Hood River Toll Bridge. However, Mayor Holen and others object to the loss of this property, which was projected to be highly valuable for economic development.
"The property is the only commercial/light industrial property we have, so this parcel is so critical for our growth," Holen said. "There is already one in-lieu site in the city limits, and we had no objection to that. Now you're proposing to put another one within four-tenths of a mile. This will cause irreparable harm to the economy of the Port of Klickitat, and the cities of Bingen and White Salmon. We will lose economic viability if this moves forward."
Others in attendance agreed with Holen's assessment.
"We're in dire need of economic development and property for industries that create jobs," said Port of Klickitat Executive Director Dianne Sherwood. "We would encourage the Corps to find alternative sites, perhaps in Skamania County."
"We're trying to demonstrate a team approach to combat unemployment, but every time we turn around, we're hit with another obstacle," added Klickitat County Commissioner Don Struck.
Holen asked representatives of the Corps of Engineers to respond to the city's concerns.
George Miller, project manager for the Corps of Engineers from Portland, explained that when the Corps constructed Columbia River dams in the 1930s, the federal government entered into an agreement to replace usual and accustomed fishing sites that were lost when the dams were built.
"Our intent is not to negatively impact the economic condition in the county," said George Miller, project manager for the Corps of Engineers. "And we're sympathetic to the concerns you've raised. But our intent is to implement this federal legislation. This is an unmet obligation. The law directed us to acquire six sites in the Bonneville Pool from willing sellers."
Miller added that is not an easy task to acquire the land and not impact local communities.
Wil Keyser, director of White Salmon Public Works Department, asked whether the Corps sought land within the city's urban growth boundaries to avoid having to deal with restrictions stemming from the National Scenic Area Act.
"Not at all," Miller responded. "Our actions are exempt from the National Scenic Area. We don't need to comply with Scenic Area provisions."
Miller explained that the Corps originally had a list of 15-20 potential sites. After property owners were approached, the list of willing sellers "dropped to a very small handful," and the asking price further limited the Corps' options.
Miller added that the Corps published a public notice in 2001 seeking willing sellers of land along the Columbia River.
"That's how we found this [Kim] property," he pointed out.
Holen reviewed a map showing in-lieu sites along the river, and noted there were 18 locations in Washington, but only nine in Oregon.
"Something more equitable needs to be achieved here," Holen stated. "Does Oregon have more political clout?"
"It's not a matter of political clout," Miller responded. "It's more a matter of access to the desired locations. The fishery resource is here, and the access is here."
Sherwood inquired about another parcel that has been under consideration as an in-lieu fishing site: the Mt. Adams Logging property on Bingen Point.
Miller said the purchase of the Kim property made that purchase unlikely.
"At this point, because we have acquired the Kim property, I don't think there is any interest in pursuing another site in Bingen," he explained. "And the reason we pursued the Kim property is that there were major problems with safety and access to the site west of the bridge. During fall harvest, there was traffic backing up to the highway, and ice trucks stopped on the railroad tracks."
Miller noted that the new site may be used as a base for maintenance and/or law enforcement operations, as well as to provide camping for tribal fishers.
"We're certainly willing to address your concerns to any extent we can," Miller added.
Holen acknowledged that there was probably little or nothing the city could do about the Corps' purchase at this point.
"It looks like the strong arm of the federal government coming down on a small community, and we're told to `live with it,'" Holen complained. "I assure you we will do anything the law allows to stop this."
Holen hoped that some of the legislative representatives in attendance would encourage their bosses to seek to change the laws regarding the in-lieu sites.
"Something needs to be done to give some authority to local jurisdictions, so our land-use planning has some bearing," Holen added. "We need to make this a more rational process so we can honor the treaty but take into account modern urban life."
Keyser noted that the city's plans to put in a sewer line during the upcoming SR 14 repaving project appear doomed. He explained that the city had paid for the design of the line, and had a local improvement district (LID) organized to offset construction costs, estimated at $1.2 million.
"It's crunch hour for us, and it's probably too late for us," Keyser said. "This blows the LID out of the water. The adjacent property owners are no longer interested in participating because their property values are destroyed by the in-lieu site. I don't know if we'll ever get a sewer line to that property."