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Army Corps of Engineers district commander visits future site of Port of Sunnyside wetlands

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Col. Bruce Estok, Port Commissioner Jim Grubenhoff and Port Commissioner Arnold Martin (L-R) stand at the planned site of the outlet from the Sunnyside Ecosystem Restoration Project wetlands to the Yakima River.

Yesterday (Thursday), Colonel Bruce Estok, Commander of the Seattle District of the Army Corps of Engineers, joined Port of Sunnyside Commissioners Arnold Martin and Jim Grubenhoff and other Port officials to visit the future site of the Sunnyside Ecosystem Restoration Project.

The project, which has been in the works since 2003, is moving forward at a rapid pace this year. The Port of Sunnyside signed a project partnership agreement with the Army Corps in late September, setting the terms of funding for the project.

At yesterday's special Port meeting, Col. Estok informed Port officials that the project is now 80th out of 1,600 ongoing Army Corps projects in line to be funded.

He was quick to point out that funding is still limited, and being high on the list does not guarantee the project will get those funds, but the chances are good the design phase of the project will proceed this year.

Col. Estok was visiting to see various area projects in the pipeline to get a better idea of the conditions and the support for those projects.

During the meeting, Executive Director of the Port of Sunnyside Amber Hansen explained the impact the project could have on Sunnyside's economy. The Port deals with the water discharge from 16 local industries, and cleans that water in its wastewater treatment plant. Right now, part of the treated water goes back into the Yakima River through a ditch that is at full capacity.

According to Hansen, when the Sunnyside Ecosystem Restoration Project is finished, more water can be delivered back into the river, allowing local industries to expand.

In addition, sprayfields used by the Port to get rid of excess water may potentially be converted to more industrial areas.

On the ecological side, water that goes through the new project's wetlands will be cooled by the process and will be able to support fishery activity in the Yakima River. This aspect of the project has received enthusiastic approval from the Yakama Nation, according to Port officials.

A new riparian zone, an area that transitions land to water, will stabilize the soil around the site and along the river and become a habitat for wildlife.

A project that benefits both the ecology and the economy is rare, said Hansen, and the Port is very proud of this one.

If the funds from the Army Corps of Engineers come through this year, the project could be completed as soon as 2013.

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