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Work Starts On Ws Fish Plant

Army Corps is guiding the project

Construction is now under way on an 8,000 square foot fish processing plant within the White Salmon city limits.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is guiding the project, which is located along the Columbia River in White Salmon's riverfront district between the Bingen city limits and the Hood River Toll Bridge.

The facility has an estimated price tag of $3.16 million.

"The building will be used for cleaning of fish harvested in Zone 6," said George Miller, project manager with the Corps of Engineers.

Miller works specifically with treaty fishing access sites, of which this project is one.

"The facility is the Corps' project, and it will be transferred to the BIA [Bureau of Indian Affairs] to allow use by four tribes," Miller added. "This will allow the tribes to further process and market their catch, improve their revenues, and improve quality control and food safety."

The four tribes that will operate the site are the Yakamas, Nez Perce, Warm Springs, and Umatillas.

The area in the "Zone 6" designation includes the Bonneville, The Dalles, and the John Day pools of the Columbia River. According to Miller, the new plant will primarily serve the Bonneville pool.

"This is the only commercial facility we're working on with the tribes," Miller noted. "There is going to be space for freezing and refrigerating, fish cleaning operations -- heading, gutting, and filleting -- as well as space for an office, showers, and a small locker room."

Jon Matthews, director of finance and operations for the Columbia River Inter-tribal Fish Commission, said the plant will provide an important revenue stream for tribal members.

"The plant will increase the value of the tribal commercial fisheries, and allow fishers to get more involved in the retail marketing channels," said Matthews, who is a member of the Nez Perce. "For tribal fishers, we hope it will increase their presence in the marketplace substantially, and allow them to be more involved in value-added components."

Miller said flexibility was being built in to the facility. "They could do processing of eggs, and could do smoking and canning," Miller explained. "The initial design doesn't have those facilities, but they could be added."

"We expect that to be phased in as equipment allows and as the product lines increase," Matthews added.

According to Miller, the plant will employ between 10-20 employees during peak operations. Activity at the plant will correspond with the primary fishing seasons.

"The peak is the fall Chinook harvest," Miller explained. "That's when you'll see the most activity."

DeGrange Construction, LLC, a Wasco, Ore., company, is currently clearing the land and preparing the site for building.

Mayor Linda Jones of White Salmon said the processing plant played a big role in helping the city obtain funding for a new sewer line to the riverfront district. That will help a number of existing businesses and boost the prospects of additional commercial development.

"Once we get the sewer line in, it will connect with the plant," Jones said. "We hope to start the sewer line work in July -- it depends on the funding."

The city's new sewer line will run east from the Hood River Toll Bridge for about a mile, tying in near the McDonald's restaurant in Bingen. The project will cost about $1.3 million, and the Corps of Engineers is picking up about half of that cost -- $700,000. Other federal grants are expected to cover the remainder of the infrastructure development, which will upgrade a significant portion of the riverfront district.

"If you look at the investment being made, it will be a net positive," Miller said. "I know there have been concerns about the issue of forgoing other development at the site, but this will be a state of the art processing facility. And some local contractors are going to participate in the construction. It will be a net positive for the community."

Mayor Jones said she does not yet know if the plant's operations will create any local jobs beyond the construction phase.

However, Matthews pointed out that the plant is geared to help the tribes.

"We expect those working there to be tribal members," Matthews explained. "But we expect benefits to the community, with those payrolls staying in the community and multiplying out."

Not everyone was enthusiastic about the location of the fish plant. Although the land was up for sale for several years before the federal government bought it for tribal fishing use, some believed the land would have been better suited for commercial development.

Bingen Mayor Brian Prigel was among those who expressed concerns about the siting.

"Certainly, it's an obligation to the native American community from the federal government," Prigel said. "But they could have found a more appropriate place for it, I think."

The target date for completion of the White Salmon complex is the spring of 2006, with operations getting under way by next fall.

Miller said the Corps of Engineers agreed to build 31 tribal in-lieu fishing sites along the Columbia River, and the processing plant represents the 29th site. Another site is planned near Wyeth, Ore., and the final location remains uncertain, with no land yet purchased.

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