Tri-City Herald: Now is the time to lower the levee in Pasco

Working with the Corps of Engineers on anything river-related has its challenges.

But many are hoping for the better with Lt. Col. Timothy R. Vail, who took command of the Walla Walla district last summer.

Long-stalled plans are being brought to the forefront so Vail can look at them with fresh eyes.

One project is to continue lowering the levees. Plans to lower a mile-long stretch in Pasco have been on hold since 2010. That’s when the Corps put a nationwide moratorium on levee alterations.

Pasco city officials took Vail on a tour of the Sacagawea Heritage Trail, pointing out the differences between the narrow stretch in Pasco and the wider, lower Kennewick and Richland portions of the 23-mile trail loop.

Between roads 54 and 72 in Pasco, the trail narrows to just 6 feet across. In most other places, it is 10 feet wide. While that may not seem like a huge difference, when two bikes are passing in opposite directions or a group of walkers is wandering the trail, 4 feet is a big deal.

And it’s a little daunting to be up so high on a narrower trail if you’re not so confident in your skills on two wheels. A plunge into the Columbia would not be fun.

The proposal is to lower the levee by 3 feet to what is considered its “minimum safety height,” which the Corps said required further study.

The Corps still needs to do a risk management assessment.

The Corps plans to work on the study this spring and finish it up in 2016. That would be followed by another review and a formal request from the city to lower the levee.

In the meantime, the city needs to draw up plans on how to widen and lower the levee, and find the money — probably through grants. No final cost has been determined, but it is expected to be in the millions of dollars.

With the Corps’ study soon to get under way, at least the city has a timeframe to guide it. Pasco officials don’t foresee an answer on the levee project until 2018.

For those who haven’t enjoyed the Sacagawea Heritage Trail loop, put it on your list of resolutions for the new year — taking on some or part on your bike or walking.

You’ll see why it is important to have that section of levee lowered, and when the time for public comment comes, you can let the Corps leadership know the value of public access to the river.