In Focus: Corps manages docks along the shoreline to serve the public

I appreciate the recent Tri-City Herald coverage of the controversies with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ management of the public shoreline along the Columbia and Snake Rivers. This is an important public issue. Simply put, the Corps serves the public; our requirements for permitting of docks are part of that public service.

The Corps manages this public shoreline to address the needs of more than 800,000 annual recreational visitors to the McNary shoreline, to meet the requirements of federal and state law, and to provide options for nearby property owners who wish to place private docks and structures on public land. The Herald’s coverage has focused on this last group, without sufficient consideration of the Corps’ legal obligations or our responsibility to balance many competing interests.

In 2012, the Corps updated the McNary Shoreline Management Plan after a 5-year process that included extensive public involvement and frequent consultation with local, state and federal agencies and tribal governments. The Corps’ work on behalf of the public resulted in increasing the opportunity for nearby property owners to place private docks on the public shoreline. Prior to the plan’s revision there were 73 private docks on federal land. Today, 100 private docks can be permitted.

To comply with environmental laws, the improved Shoreline Management Plan requires environmental mitigation by private dock owners. This mitigation — such as planting and maintaining trees —offsets the environmental impacts of these new docks. If the owners of new private docks cannot mitigate near the site of their dock, the Corps has provided an alternate mitigation site for their use.

Currently, 14 new dock permit holders, including the dock owners recently profiled in a Herald article, are using this alternate site.

The Corps also provides property owners with the opportunity to build features such as stairways and paved footpaths to their docks. Like any construction on public land, these projects must comply with laws protecting our environment and our cultural resources. To ensure that these projects are built and maintained properly, the applicant must obtain a license from the Corps and renew this license every five years.

The cost for the Corps to evaluate the many legal and engineering requirements for these private construction projects is about $4,000 for the initial application, or about $67 per month of use. For subsequent five-year renewals, this cost is reduced by 50 percent. These costs are reasonable and are placed exactly where they belong — on the private user who personally benefits, not on the general public.

It is important to note that for the dock owner who is satisfied with a simple trail to their dock (which requires only minimal vegetation clearing), the administrative fee is just $35 for a five-year dock permit.

Details on the McNary Shoreline Management Plan are available at www.nww.usace.army.mil

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers serves the public interest. We follow the law, and we seek practical solutions to complicated problems. The McNary Shoreline Management Plan protects the public shoreline, endangered species and the taxpayer. The plan benefits all of us while making it possible for nearby property owners to use public lands responsibly.