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Army Corps of Engineers trek to Sunnyside to discuss wetland project

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Port of Sunnyside commissioners and representatives of the Army Corps of Engineers look at a field that will be excavated to accommodate filtration in a proposed wetland to be developed along the Yakima River. Pictured are (L-R) Melissa Leslie with the corps, Commissioner Arnold Martin, Port Director Amber Hansen, Commissioner Jim Grubenhoff and Project Manager Chris Behrens.

Yesterday (Wednesday) representatives of the Army Corps of Engineers visited the Port of Sunnyside to tour its industrial wastewater facility and the proposed site for developing a wetland.

Port of Sunnyside Engineer Bob Farrell said the port's interest in constructing a wetland along the Yakima River came about in 2003.

At that time, he said, Port of Sunnyside Director Amber Hansen learned of a restoration project between the corps and the Yakama Indian Tribe.

Farrell said Hansen contacted the Corps of Engineers to inquire about a possible partnership between the corps and the port.

He said the Port of Sunnyside also wanted to look at the possibility of sending effluent water to a wetland to increase wastewater treatment capabilities.

"We wanted to emulate a natural system," said Farrell.

He said the idea of developing a wetland is supported because the cool ground water produced by a wetland will support a natural fishery in the Yakima River.

The Port of Sunnyside owns property along the river on South Emerald Road. That property is slated for the wetland project.

The Port of Sunnyside, said Farrell, also gained support of the idea from the Yakama Nation and the Washington State Department of Fish & Wildlife.

A partnership with the Corps of Engineers was developed and the corps hired Tetra Tech to conduct a feasibility study.

Over the years, the Port of Sunnyside has modified its wastewater treatment facility to include sequencing batch reactors, and it obtained the proper permits for discharging effluent water.

Farrell said yesterday's meeting with representatives of the corps was called to address questions from the Port of Sunnyside commissioners.

Chris Behrens is the project manager with the corps. He has been working with staff at the Port of Sunnyside one the wetland project and said the plans for the project are currently under review.

He said there are several steps in the review, but he anticipates that process to end by September of this year.

"One of the challenges of a project like this is that funding is unpredictable," said Behrens.

He said the project has stalled in the past because funding was diverted elsewhere.

"The job of the planner is to work with experts to develop solutions that address the needs of an ecosystem," Behrens said, stating the plans for the wetland project are to develop an aquatic ecosystem restoration.

"There's been concern the project is part of the treatment plant," he said.

To address those concerns Behrens has implemented verbiage in the plan that was "carefully selected to ensure those making the decisions are clear on the issue."

He said the water that will be discharged into the wetland is already in compliance with permits. It has been treated and the wetlands will cool it before it enters the river.

Port of Sunnyside Commissioner Jeff Matson asked Behrens how long the project construction would take, given everything falls into place, including funding.

Behrens estimated the project could be completed by 2013, if all the "ifs" line up.

Matson said he views the project as a "win-win" because the wetland would provide the port a long-term solution for discharging effluent water and the ecology of the Yakima River will benefit.

Following the exchange, the representatives of the Army Corps of Engineers proceeded to the industrial wastewater facility and the proposed site for the wetland project.

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