Bringing a sewer line to the riverfront district of White Salmon has long been a goal of city planners. Thanks to a pair of grants from the federal government, the goal finally appears to be within reach.
According to Wil Keyser, director of the White Salmon Public Works Department, the grants total approximately $1.45 million, and are expected to pay the entire cost of the project. Keyser estimated the sanitary sewer line will cost about $1.25-$1.3 million.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is providing $700,000 in one grant, while an additional $750,000 is coming from the U.S. Department of Transportation.
"We're waiting on notification on the release of those funds from the federal government," Keyser said. "These funds are dedicated to White Salmon, and can go no place else."
The new sewer line will go from the park and ride facility directly west of the Hood River Toll Bridge to connect to an existing line near McDonald's in Bingen, a distance of about a mile.
"The folks out there have had to have septic systems, so we're very encouraged about this. We're already seeing some commercial activity," Keyser said.
Keyser said he anticipated the money would be released no later than the end of April.
"This project has been in the making for the past two and a half years," Keyser said.
Keyser praised U.S. Sen. Patty Murray (D.-Wash.) and the Corps of Engineers for working to make sure White Salmon would get the money for this infrastructure project.
"If not for Sen. Murray, we probably would not have gotten it at all," he said. "We told her how important this was to the economic growth of the community, and she took an interest immediately. And the Army Corps of Engineers bent over backward to help."
Keyser pointed to the opportunities the sewer line would produce.
"The benefits to the community are obvious," Keyser explained. "We won't have on-site septic systems with a new sewer line. That benefits the environment significantly, given the proximity of the Columbia River. And the economic benefits will inspire development for the riverfront corridor. The value of property will certainly go up as well."
City officials hope to go to bid on the project by July, and have work begin in August or September.
Keyser pointed out that a Yakama Nation fish processing center will soon be going in along the riverfront, and he hopes to start the sewer line work at about the same time.
Making the sewer line available for the fish processing facility was a key factor in the Corps of Engineers providing its $700,000 grant for the White Salmon sewer project. The Corps has been working with Indian tribes throughout the Columbia River Gorge area to assist in creating in-lieu fishing sites as part of treaty obligations.
"We could begin this project in concert with in-lieu construction by fall, and complete it hopefully in about 12 months," Keyser said.
Although he declined to specify what was planned, Keyser added that some private development plans are already "in the works" for the junction of the Hood River Toll Bridge and State Route 14. The plans were contingent on getting the sewer line in place.
"We're very excited about this happening, for community growth and development," he said. "It will be nice to attract tourism dollars over to this side of the river, given the nature of what's proposed."
Debra Reed, manager of the Mount Adams Chamber of Commerce, said the improved infrastructure would help bring new business to the area.
"It will make my job a lot easier," Reed explained. "That's the only industrial area available for White Salmon."
Robin Hale, an existing business owner in White Salmon's riverfront district, said he was happy to hear the sewer line would be forthcoming.
"That will be really great," said Hale, owner of Bridge RV Park. "I think it'll help in the area. We've got a septic system in now, and if I hook into the sewer line and take out the septic, it would give me some property for future expansion. It adds possibly a couple acres to this place."
Hale added that he wished the project could have been completed sooner.
"The only drawback is, so much land has been grabbed by the government," he explained. "It could have all been commercial."