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Port commissioners approve wetlands purchase

A strip of river bottom property located southwest of Sunnyside will be of dual benefit to the local economy and environment, thanks to recent action taken by the Sunnyside Port Commission.

The Commission has purchased 221 acres of farm land on South Emerald Road, near the Yakima River, with intentions of transforming it into a natural filtering system for the Port's wastewater treatment facility, according to Port officials.

The Port purchased the future wetlands property from Emerald Ranches LLC. at the cost of $1.2 million, after nearly four years of land use studies.

"We have completed the environmental impact and land use studies, which have determined the land is suitable as a wetlands area," said Amber Hansen, Sunnyside Port manager.

Hansen said the Port expects to begin designing the wetlands project in the coming year, with actual construction to begin in mid-2006.

"We are waiting for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to complete its feasibility study, which has been held up due to federal funding constraints," Hansen said.

"Our project has been tabled until the next round of funding is approved for the Corps of Engineers by Congress," she explained.

Hansen said the federal dollars are needed since the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will fund 65 percent of the cost for the feasibility study and the construction of the wetlands project. The Port will finance the piping from its Midvale Road treatment plant to the Yakima River wetlands, as well as the purchase of the property.

She said the wetlands project will be of great local environmental benefit by returning clean water to the Yakima River.

"It will also be of benefit to the economy by increasing the Port's treatment plant's capacity for treatment of local industries' wastewater," she explained.

"We believe the addition of the wetlands will also increase the Port's capacity to handle future industrial wastewater, while allowing local industry to expand, aiding the economy," she said.

Hansen said currently local Port-based industries provide $34 million in wages to the local economy.

"The wetlands system is an open-ended system, which will allow for industrial expansion well into the future," she predicted.

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