Three prominent Tri-Citians hope to persuade the federal government to turn over Army Corps of Engineers’ riverfront land to local governments by the end of this year.
This has been a dream for some Tri-Citians for at least 30 years, if not longer.
Their immediate hurdle is no one is really sure which Columbia River waterfront lands are owned by the Corps and which are owned locally by the cities of Kennewick, Pasco and Richland.
The trio angling for local control are retired U.S. Rep. Doc Hastings, former Kennewick mayor Brad Fisher, and retired Tri-City Development Council vice president of federal programs Gary Petersen.
They and other Tri-City leaders are waiting for a Corps report to be unveiled that will map out exactly which Columbia River shoreline plots are owned by the Corps between Hanford and Finley.
The group’s motive is their belief that the Tri-Cities would do a better job of maintaining the 34 miles of rivershore — including its appearance — than the Corps does.
“The Corps has done zero maintenance in the past 69 to 70 years. … Because of the overgrowth, you can’t see the river,” Petersen said.
The growth of weeds and bushes along many steep rocky segments of the riverfront has been slow but relentless for decades and the ugliness has not made an impact on Tri-Citians’ minds, he said.
“The Corps won’t allow pesticides or herbicides to be sprayed,” Petersen said.
The group wants to get the land ownership included in the federal National Defense Authorization Act currently being put together in Congress, using U.S. Rep. Dan Newhouse to do so. If that is successful, the transfer would take place Oct. 1. If the effort fails this year, the trio plans to try again next year, Petersen said.
TRIDEC supports the proposed ownership transfer.
“Right now, it’s pretty restrictive for any development for recreational or commercial uses. ... One of the challenges for the cities has been the maintenance of park lands (under the status quo). .... (The cities) don’t have any equity. They can’t use the land for any revenue generation,” said David Reeploeg, TRIDEC’s vice president for federal programs.
With the long string of dams on the Columbia River now upstream of Richland, the threat of flooding in the Tri-Cities is almost non-existent, Petersen said.
But the first step is to figure out what Columbia River shorelines, plus the ditches leading toward the river, are actually owned by the Corps.
The huge flood of 1948 and construction of McNary Dam in 1954 led to the Corps taking ownership of significant portions of riverfront land to build levies and to create buffer zones in anticipation of future flooding and the creation of the McNary reservoir. The result is that riverfront is a hodgepodge of federal and locally-controlled lands. Eventually, everyone essentially forgot who owned what.
A while ago, Franklin County Commissioner Brad Peck filed a Freedom of Information Act request to the Corps to find out which lands the Corps owned. He was told that the request would cost $30,000, along with him having to do his own sorting through the federal records.
Consequently, Newhouse took the lead on the records search with the Corps having a March 1 deadline to provide the information to Congress. That deadline has been missed.
The records and a map have been created of the appropriate lands, according to the Corps. That information is now at the Pentagon or at federal Office of Management & Budget, depending on who is talking. Two requests to Newhouse’s office seeking the status of the report were not answered.
The information is expected to become public soon, Petersen said.
Meanwhile, the governments of Pasco, Richland and Kennewick have taken a wait-and-see stance on whether they want to assume control of the Corps lands.
A few weeks ago, the Kennewick City Council voted to support the concept, and it expects to seek public feedback this summer on what to do with the Corps land. The city is eyeing 60 acres on the east end of Columbia Park as a recreational area.
“We have no preconceived idea” on what might be done with those 60 acres, said Terry Walsh, the city’s director of employee and community relations.
“We’re interested in it simply from the perspective of local control. … Do we want the land back? We don’t know. It depends on what the legislation says,” said Rick Terway, Pasco’s director of administration.
For Richland, questions include getting a better grip on the flood control issues, and to figure out what maintenance of the new lands would cost Richland, said Joe Schiessel, parks director for Richland.
Right now, none of the three cities has development plans for any new riverfront land.
Terway noted that state and federal environmental impact reviews would still be needed if any such local plans surface.
The three men pushing for local control are not pushing any development aspirations, Petersen said, adding the city governments would control that issue with zoning.
However, the history of the Tri-Cities trying to assume control of its waterfront has been long with little progress.
A 1988 Tri-City riverfront improvement plan looks much the same as a 2012 version, which closely resembles the concerns voiced by Hastings, Fisher and Petersen.
But Petersen said he thinks “we are closer than we have been in the last 30 years … to getting this property returned to the community.”
See video about shoreline reconveyance at http://bit.ly/shorelinecontrol.
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