Special Report from Dori Luzzo Gilmour

The Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation (CTUIR) met with the Richland City Council in a special Friday workshop meeting to discuss cooperating to acquire federally owned, Columbia River shoreline currently controlled by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The groups also discussed Columbia Point South and Bateman Island

Kat Brigham, CTUIR board of trustees chair, said that she wanted to make sure that Richland representatives understood that the shoreline is included in their ceded land and belongs to the tribes since treaties were signed in the mid-1800s.

Currently, the city of Richland has a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the CTUIR which is not a legally enforceable agreement. Brigham brought up the idea of changing to a legally binding memorandum of agreement (MOA) which would obligate the city to include the tribes in any plans and discussions regarding ceded lands. 

Deputy City Manager Joe Schiessl said, “The purpose of the MOA is to take the place of the treaty relationship….we are stepping into the role that the United States now plays.”

Brigham told the council, “We are concerned about the federal transfer. We have the federal trust responsibility with the federal agencies and we don’t necessarily have that with you guys.”

According to the U.S. Department of Interior, “The trust responsibility consists of the highest moral obligations that the United States must meet to ensure the protection of tribal and individual Indian lands, assets, resources, and treaty and similarly recognized rights.”

The term “reconveyance” which is often used to refer to the land transfer, means “the return of property title to the original owner,” and can only refer to the tribes due to their treaty rights. The city of Richland has never been the owner of the shoreline property which was purchased by Corps before the city was incorporated from the owners at the time to accommodate potential flooding from construction of the McNary Dam

The project to transfer land has been discussed by all of the Tri-Cities jurisdictions with interests along the Columbia River shoreline since at least 2014, but gained momentum in 2018 when Congressman Dan Newhouse introduced legislation that would have transferred 34 miles of shoreline. His language was included in the Defense Authorization Act but was flagged by the Congressional Budget Office and removed.

At the time, citizens as well as the CTUIR opposed the move and legislation was unlikely to pass without tribe approval.

In addition to Brigham, Lisa Banuelas, member board and Teara Farrow, cultural resources protection program manager represented the CTUIR. 

 Richland was represented by Mayor Pro-Tem Theresa Richardson, Councilmembers Sandra Kent and Ryan Whitten, City Manager Jon Amundson and Schiessl.

The CTUIR says they are now very supportive of the idea of reconveyance as long as their tribal rights are recognized. They also asked that the tribe’s stories be told, that they have the ability to use their ceded lands, and that their fishing rights be restored. 

In a previous city council workshop, Schiessl described the land that the city was requesting as a “light touch.”  The city was vague on the reasons for wanting to control the property. 

One piece was near the Reach Museum and the other was under Highway 240 and would allow a second entrance to land the city owns at Columbia Point South.

The CTUIR representatives asked for another meeting to discuss moving to an MOA and the city agreed to have a workshop on April 25. 

The CTUIR is not the only tribe interested in reconveyance. Richland does not have an MOU with  Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation.

Columbia Point South

Columbia Point South is the area of land that is east of the highway 182 overpass. Currently the land is closed to vehicle traffic. In 2018, citizen opposition helped sink a change in Columbia Point South zoning to “urban recreational.” The zoning designation would have allowed the city to approve cultural facilities, lodging facilities, limited retail and sporting goods rentals.

At the Friday meeting, the representatives of the CTUIR  expressed interest in maintaining the area in its natural state with hiking and biking trails along with tribal interpretation of some type. They also want to erect fishing scaffolds and sell fish to the public. In the future, a meeting site which could include a long-house or trading post is desired there as well. The city representatives promised to discuss this during the 3-year strategic plan. 

Bateman Island 

The city plans to send a strongly worded letter outlining their concerns with the removal of the Bateman Island causeway. The structure was built years ago by a farmer and blocks the flow of the Yakima River into the Columbia River and creates a hazard for salmon.

Joe Schiessl explained they believe the project is underfunded. Currently the Corps is budgeting for $13.9 million and the city believes it will cost $100 million. 

According to the city, this new figure includes remediation of silt that has harmful pesticides like DDT, a new bridge to give access to the island, remediation to offset the harm to downriver marina owners, protecting the water intakes of the city of Kennewick and Pasco, and other unplanned issues. The city has long expressed that they want to protect the business interests from harm from removal of the illegal causeway. Schiessl believes the Corp plan doesn’t satisfy NEPA as well. 

The city is listed as a third tier participant by the Army Corp of Engineers. The Corp is working with first tier non-federal participant, the Washington Fish and Wildlife Department; second tier cooperating agencies National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and Washington State Department of Ecology. 

Third tier stakeholders include marina owners.

The CTUIR said they wanted to see the letter as soon as possible and Schiessl said they would release it Monday, which is the end of the comment period

The Yakama Nation has been calling for removal of the illegal causeway. CTUIR agrees that to improve the waterway and restore salmon habitat it needs to be removed and urged the city to soften their letter. Kat Brigham spoke several times of President Joe Biden and Department of the Interior Director Deb Haaland renewed commitment to restore salmon and rivers. Haaland is the first Native person to head the agency. Brigham was recently appointed to serve as the Pacific Northwest Native representative for Haaland. 

Potential Future Partnership Opportunities

Schiessl outlined the areas that the city would like to partner with CTUIR:

1. Columbia Point South

2. Land ownership of the area around Columbia Point South not currently in Richlands control. It is the parcel north of the Yakima River. Talking about taking control of these lands have been of interest to both the city and the tribes.

3. Bateman Island 

4.North Richland (near the Port of Benton), 1341 acres that could be developed for clean energy, solar, and small nuclear reactors.

5. Little Badger Mountain 30 acres of open space that could have interpretation and site or place naming by the tribes.

6. Restoration of native conditions within the city using only the tribal nursery. 

7. Tribal history displays for the Richland Public Library. 

CTUIR offered to do training for the city including seminars that they held in the past about the importance of place naming (calling Rattlesnake Mountain its native name of Laliik). The CTUIR noted that there is a painting of Laliik in the lobby of City Hall and asked for proper naming. 

The CTUIR again brought up the importance of partnering with the Biden administration to protect and restore their rivers and lands. 

A date was set to meet again and to further develop plans for partnerships and agreements. The CTUIR pushed for a date for a MOA and the meeting closed with promises of follow-up by the city. 

Correction: The Richland City Council workshop with the CTUIR will be on the April 25 at 6 pm.