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Momentum rolling for Black Rock

Yakima County commissioners appear set next Tuesday to sign a resolution supporting the Port of Sunnyside's study to research the economic benefits of the Black Rock reservoir.

At the same time, commissioners are planning to provide approval of an interlocal agreement between the port, as well as Yakima and Benton counties. That agreement will investigate the economic benefit of tourism and a master planned resort at Black Rock.

"It's something that needs to happen," said Yakima County Commissioner Chair Jesse Palacios. "We need to show support to the Port of Sunnyside and the Black Rock effort, and Congress has set money aside to continue studies of Black Rock."

Congress has apportioned $8 million to the Bureau of Reclamation to study the feasibility of water storage at Black Rock. The state of Washington will commit $4 million to Black Rock for the same project, which includes an environmental impact study.

Benton County Commission Chair Max Benitz said his county took the lead in asking for help from Congress, specifically U.S. Rep. Doc Hastings (R-Pasco).

Benton County has already signed off on a resolution supporting the port's efforts to research economic potential at Black Rock and will approve the same 30-page interlocal agreement that Yakima County is set to sign next week.

The need for Black Rock is evident, Benitz contends, as the Yakima Valley currently has a capacity of 1.2 million acre feet of water each year, while demand can reach more than 3 million acre feet.

Black Rock, he said, would have the potential to hold up to 1.8 million acre feet of water, more than doubling the area's capacity.

"The face of the dam would be taller than Grand Coulee," Benitz added.

Both Benton and Yakima counties have contributed towards researching Black Rock's water storage potential.

Benitz said Benton County has pumped in a total of $500,000 to research Black Rock's water storage potential. Yakima County has pledged $50,000 this year for support of Black Rock, said Palacios.

The Port of Sunnyside will spend $25,000 on the economic feasibility study.

"It will hopefully provide information they (the Bureau of Reclamation) can use in their study," said Port of Sunnyside Manager Amber Hansen.

In addition, the port and the counties will each contribute in-kind services under terms of the interlocal agreement.

The services, for example, could include time spent by county employees related to the master planned resort proposed for Black Rock.

Benton and Yakima counties had tabled action on Black Rock for the past year while their respective staffs reviewed the interlocal agreement.

With county planners and consultants apparently satisfied, both counties are prepared to move forward.

"It is good news," said Hansen. We're still waiting to see the signatures, but it will be wonderful to have this thing moving forward with all the parties on board."

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