YAKIMA, Wash. -- A plan to construct a tribal village along the Columbia River for families who were not compensated for the loss of their homes when dams were constructed has garnered congressional support.
On Wednesday, the U.S. Senate overwhelmingly approved a bill, 99-1, that directs the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to complete a village plan and acquire land where the village would be built. The Corps of Engineers constructed and operates major dams on the river.
Now the bill heads to President Donald Trump for final approval.
Four Columbia River tribes — Yakama, Nez Perce, Umatilla and Warm Springs — were affected by the construction of three major dams: Bonneville, The Dalles and John Day.
Many were given payments to leave the river as compensation for their loss. But some weren’t.
A study commissioned by the Corps found at least 44 families were not compensated for their losses.
Last year, the Corps of Engineers announced plans to build a village, and said it would dedicate $1.56 million to cover the planning of the project while the rest of the funding would be contingent on congressional approval.
But the Corps expended its 2017 budget without funding the planning stage of the village, and was denied a request for funding by the federal Office of Management and Budget, said Brian Watt, press secretary for U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell.
In denying the request, the OMB said the Corps lacked authority to move ahead with the project and that it was not the mission of the Corps to provide housing.
The new legislation grants the Corps the ability to proceed, and Cantwell is working with the Corps and the OMB to secure funding, Watt said.
Historically, there were tribal villages and traditional fishing sites all along the river, including the once-vibrant Celilo Falls. There, water crashed over jagged basalt, and tribal fishermen dipped nets to pull salmon from the rushing water.
But the falls and neighboring villages were inundated when The Dalles Dam was completed in 1957. Villagers who refused to give up their cultural ties to the area stayed, and were given substandard homes constructed of World War II surplus material with the promise of receiving new homes later. The promise wasn’t fulfilled until 2007.