New language inserted into a federal water resources bill that’s awaiting legislative approval could help the Port of Hood River speed the development of a waterfront pedestrian trail planned for the west bank of the Nichols Boat Basin.
The legislation, which received bipartisan support from U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, R-Hood River, and Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., is included in the 2013 Water Resources Reform and Development Act, a federal waterway infrastructure bill. It passed handily in both the House and the Senate and was expected to be signed by the President into law.
The bill inserts language that allows the port to pave, fill, landscape, and plant vegetation down to the ordinary high water line on the west bank of the Nichols Boat Basin, which is at an elevation of 79 feet, without requiring a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Currently, the port is planning a waterfront pedestrian trail in the aforementioned area, which would consist of building the trail, landscaping, riparian enhancement, planting trees, installing benches, and other features.
Port Executive Director Michael McElwee reported that previously, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers required a permit if these activities were to occur below the flowage easement line, located at 83 feet.
“When the federal government built the Bonneville Dam, they created the Bonneville Pool,” he explained, “and because of that, they knew the elevation in the pool would be higher than it had been and would require additional land to flood and that would be inundated seasonally and perpetually by water.”
McElwee said the Army Corps purchased the easements back in 1937 that would give them the right to flood the property. He said it was his understanding that the federal agency purchased another round of easements back in the 1970s and the permitting restrictions came with them.
McElwee said in his tenure, he had not seen the water level rise to the flowage easement mark, and that the volume between the ordinary high water mark and the flowage easement that the Army Corps could potentially flood was “infinitesimally small” compared to the rest of the Bonneville Pool. He said that in the case of the waterfront trail, the permit was “needless,” since the project primarily consists of landscaping. McElwee also referred to the permit process as “lengthy, expensive, and uncertain.”
In a press release issued by Walden’s office, Port Commissioner Jon Davies said he was pleased to have the “archaic” constraints removed.
“It’s a small victory but it will help a great deal with our efforts to improve water access, riparian enhancement and walking path construction along the Western edge of the Nichol’s Basin,” he said.
The port now turns its attention to two grants it has applied for to help fund the construction of the trail. Word is expected on the outcomes of the port’s applications sometime next month.