Corps Looks at Riverfront Restoration Planby Nathan Isaacs, Herald staff writer
Tri-City Herald, September 4, 2002
Richland and the Army Corps of Engineers are seeking public comments on a proposed salmon habitat restoration project along the riverfront near Bateman Island.
The project has several options, but all include blocking parts of what's called Bushwhacker Road, a dirt road that runs between the river delta and the Corps' levee in the Richland Y area. Closing the road would put an end to vehicle traffic by anglers, bird watchers and, police say, some criminals.
The various alternatives also would breach the causeway to Bateman Island, allowing water to flow around the south side of the island, and reduce the height of the levee in the area by about four feet.
A public meeting on the proposals is planned Thursday from 6 to 8:30 p.m. in the training room at the Richland Police Department on George Washington Way.
Residents will have a chance to review the project's alternatives, raise objections and offer suggestions or praise.
"We want to make sure we're looking at it from all angles," said Parks Director Wyn Birkenthal.
He wants input from hikers, anglers, bird watchers, bikers and walkers, as well as people who play on the water such as water-skiers.
He said the proposal could tap into $5 million the Corps can use on the restoration project.
Federal rules would require the city to pay 25 percent of the restoration's costs. In return, the Corps would pay 50 percent for recreational improvements in the project, including building the Sacagawea Heritage Trail atop the levee and a Lewis and Clark Interpretive Overlook at the Columbia Center Boulevard terminus.
The Corps has not completed a formal cost analysis of the project's alternatives, and ballpark guesses have ranged from a few hundred thousand dollars to several million dollars.
Birkenthal said a key to the project is whether a cost balance can be found among the alternatives so the city gets the recreational improvements for as much or less than what it would have to pay without a partnership with the Corps.
The city also doesn't want to join a project that would adversely affect river access for the public or take too long or be too arduous to be completed.
Pasco recently decided against a similar partnership with the Corps because such a balance could not be found and the city decided it was better off pursuing its own recreational improvements along the Columbia River.
Pasco, Kennewick and Richland are committed to building or revamping trails and parks as part of the bicentennial anniversary of the Lewis and Clark Corps of Discovery Expedition, which came through the Tri-Cities in the fall of 1805. The cities want the improvements built by the 2005 celebration.
Meanwhile, the Corps has been committed to restoring salmon habitat throughout the Columbia River watershed.
By breaching the causeway in this project, the Corps hopes to cool the water in the delta so that it's less than 77 degrees. The cooler water benefits juvenile salmon.
The breach could be made either with culverts through the causeway or by replacing it with a bridge. Birkenthal likes the idea of a bridge arcing over to the island.
Besides being more aesthetically pleasing than the current dirt causeway, the bridge also would be a handy spot for anglers.
That might help quiet concerns about what cooler water would do for catfish and bass fishing. Corps officials have said they believe the cooler water won't hurt fishing.
Another concern for anglers is losing vehicle access to the delta via Bushwhacker Road.
The project would reduce the levee by about 4 feet. The dirt from the levee then would be used as fill, angling from the levee and stretching the shore farther into the water. The Corps believes the new, sloping shoreline would aid wildlife in and out of the water.
The Richland Police Department also may benefit if the road is filled in and blocked. Earlier this year, the department requested that chain gates be place across the road to prevent nighttime crimes. Because of its location, police say, the road is hard to patrol.
As for the anglers, Birkenthal said parking nodes have been added to the alternatives, and he hopes that will allay concerns.
After the Thursday meeting, the issue would next be brought to the Richland Parks and Recreation Department's Oct. 10 meeting, which will include a formal public hearing on the alternatives.
Once an alternative is selected, the Corps will complete a detailed plan, including cost estimates and environmental studies. A 30-day public review of that refined proposal would be available either late this year or early in 2003.
Another park commission meeting would follow early in 2003. However, the city council has the final say on entering any partnership with the Corps.
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