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EPA proposal won't impact Sunnyside Port wetlands project

An advocacy group for private property rights is concerned a new proposal by the federal Environmental Protection Agency is too far-reaching.

The draft guidelines would extend federal protection to some wetlands areas, going beyond what the American Land Rights Association says is the intent of the Clean Water Act.

In addition, the proposal would reaffirm protection for small streams that feed into larger streams, rivers, bays and coastal waters.

The EPA says it is considering the change as a way to better protect the supply of clean water, as well as ecosystems.

More information about the proposal is available at www.water.epa.gov.

However the debate ends up, one piece of good news locally is that EPA's possible expansion into regulating some wetlands won't apply to a project involving the Port of Sunnyside.

In partnership with the Army Corps of Engineers, the port is planning a $6 million wetlands area southeast of Sunnyside, near the intersection of Murray and South Emerald roads.

Amber Hansen is the port's executive director, and she says the draft regulations apply to wetlands that are near coastal regions. Indeed, the EPA states in its proposal it is "for wetlands that filter pollution and help protect communities from flooding."

Neither of those apply to the Sunnyside port's wetlands project, as it is unrelated to flooding and the water it supplies to the wetlands will have already been treated.

Hansen said the catalyst for the port's wetlands project is that it will deliver water from its treatment plant more quickly to the Yakima River, its final destination.

While that helps the port, the Corps of Army Engineers sees it as a win for the environment.

That's because the cleaned water will help elevate summer flows and cool water temperatures in the Yakima River. That in turn will benefit fish habitat in the river.

The wetlands will also provide habitat for water fowl.

Hansen said about two-thirds of the $6 million price tag for the wetlands will be funded through a grant with the Army Corps of Engineers.

The remaining cost will be covered by the Port of Sunnyside. Hansen said the port's portion includes the purchase of 220 acres that will be the site of the wetlands.

Hansen said the corps is in the process of wrapping up design work for the wetlands. Because of the federal grant funding required, she figures work on the wetlands will start around October 2012.

She notes developing a wetlands is far more than delivering water to a site.

"The corps has spent nearly a million dollars just to get through the feasibility study," Hansen said. "There's a lot of earth to be moved."

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