Public Speaks Out on
by Jacques Von Lunen
About 250 people gathered in Pasco on Thursday to comment on a proposal that will affect private boat docks on the Columbia River in the Tri-Cities.
The Army Corps of Engineers published a draft of the McNary Shoreline Management Plan earlier this month. The plan covers development along more than 200 miles of shoreline.
Thursday's meeting was to provide opportunity for public comment on the plan. Another such event in 2009 led to changes in the then-draft.
The plan leaves about three miles of shoreline open for what's called "limited development," which includes private and community boat docks. Most of that zone is in Pasco, Richland, Finley and Burbank. None of it is below the mouth of the Snake River.
The plan would allow landowners with existing docks to keep them, as long as they change them to fit design requirements in place under the Endangered Species Act.
The river provides habitat to bull trout and seven species of salmon, which are protected under the act, said Justin Yeager, of the National Marine Fisheries Service, at the Pasco hearing.
The main issue is that docks create shaded areas, in which predators hide to feed on juvenile salmon during their migration.
Once the plan is approved, docks will need to use grated decks to allow light to get through, the walkway to the dock will need to be 2 feet above the water, and the dock will need to be 40 feet out from the ordinary high-water mark along the shore.
Those rules -- if approved -- will apply to existing and future docks. That means current dock owners need to re-design their docks, in some cases at considerable expense.
That isn't fair, said several who attended Thursday's meeting. Some of them had built their docks to sit far out in the river because the old rules required that there be 10 feet of water under them.
But the new rules mandate that docks be no farther than 100 feet from the shore.
Anyone pinched between the old and new rules should let the Corps know, said Lt. Col. David Caldwell, the Corp's Walla Walla District commander.
"If we made a past commitment, we will look at ways to honor that," he said.
The draft also requires that docks sit on white floats.
There is no scientific reason for this, said Mike Korenko. He quoted an article from a scientific journal that the Corps used in its documentation as saying that predators are just as attracted to white floats as to darker colors.
But the white floats are required because they reflect light under the dock, taking away the hiding places, not because of attractiveness of colors to predators, Yeager said.
Swapping out current floats for white ones would be onerous for existing dock owners, Korenko said.
There currently are 73 docks in the area covered under the plan. That's not a lot of footprint on a big river, several commenters said.
"I see the area (covered by) 73 docks as a postage stamp on a football field," said Pete Voordepoorte.
All existing docks should be grandfathered in and new rules should only apply to newly constructed docks, he said. Voordepoorte's comments were met by loud applause from the crowd.
The proposal would allow 27 new private docks. No new dock permits have been issued since 2005, when the plan update started.
Some questioned whether the total number of docks needs to be limited to 100.
"I think the (Endangered Species Act) is being misused," Korenko said. "These salmon are not impacted by this."
The 100 structures add to other environmental problems along the river, Yeager said.
And the docks are exactly in that 20 percent of the reservoir that provides the shallow habitat preferred by young salmon, said Cindy Boen, the project manager for the plan.
"It seems like (the docks are) a tiny piece," Boen said. "But they have a big impact."
Comments can continue to be made in writing to the Corps. Given the large amount of unanswered questions at Thursday's meeting, the public comment period may be extended past its original June 27 deadline, Caldwell said.
Comments can be sent by email to McNarySMP@usace.army.mil; by fax to 509-527-7832; or by mail to Army Corps of Engineers, Walla Walla District; ATTN: Cindy Boen/MSMP; 201 N. Third Ave., Walla Walla, WA 99362.
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