Rep. Blumenauer & Sens. Wyden, Merkley Murray, and Cantwell Call for Swift Action to Improve Columbia River Treaty Tribal Housing Conditions

November 2, 2015
Press Release

Washington, DC – Today, Representative Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Patty Murray (D-WA), and Maria Cantwell (D-WA) sent a letter to Assistant Secretary of the Army Jo-Ellen Darcy expressing concern about current living conditions at Columbia River Treaty Fishing Access Sites in the Columbia Gorge and seeking a fair, sustainable, and timely solution to improve the conditions.

These sites – developed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) and now located on Bureau of Indian Affairs land – were designed primarily for day-use fishing and some temporary camping to ensure Tribal members have access to their usual and accustomed fishing places along the Columbia River following the construction of dams. However, due to housing needs and a desire to be closer to the Columbia River where their cultural heritage lies, many tribal members use these sites as permanent residences.

“These sites were not designed for and cannot sustainably accommodate this type and volume of use. In fact, many communities in these sites are living in extremely distressed, unsafe, and unsanitary conditions. For example, entire communities are reliant on a single water source and tribal members have constructed makeshift housing, posing fire, structural, and human health risks. There is an urgent need for adequate housing and infrastructure for these residents,” the lawmakers wrote.

In 2013, a report commissioned by the Corps found that between 44 and 85 families who lived in the Bonneville and The Dalles Pools prior to dam construction did not receive relocation assistance – leaving questions about unmet obligations that may exist to provide housing for Tribal members in the Gorge, as well as the Corps’ authority to address that obligation. Answering these questions will be essential to informing next steps on how to improve their situation, either through action by the Corps or by Congress. Due to the urgency of the issue, the lawmakers have asked the Corps to complete analysis of these questions as quickly as possible to inform the Army Corps’ Fiscal Year 2016 Work Plan and the President’s Fiscal Year 2017 budget process.

The full letter can be found here.