Tribes dedicate final mid-Columbia fishing access site

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DALLESPORT, Wash. — Native American tribes and federal officials celebrated the completion of the last of 31 tribal fishing access sites along the lower Columbia River on this week, following years of collaboration to restore fishing rights to treaty tribes.

Congress authorized the federal government in 1988 to establish access sites for tribes guaranteed fishing rights by treaties but whose traditional fishing areas were flooded when the lower Columbia River dams were built. Construction of the first sites began in 1995.

The last site near Dallesport, a 64-acre site about 75 miles east of Portland, Ore., includes eight campsites for tribal members, a boat launch and dock, restroom and shower facilities, net repair racks and a fish cleaning table.

In addition, the site required extensive environmental restoration by workers, most of whom Pacific Northwest tribal members. The site cost $4.8 million.

About 150 people, including federal officials and members of the Warm Springs, Umatilla and Nez Perce tribes, gathered next to the Columbia River on a overcast Monday for a ceremony that featured a ribbon cutting, blessing and performance by a drum group.

"The conclusion of these construction projects demonstrates the power of partnership and what we can accomplish when we work together," Gerald Lewis, chairman of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, said in a statement.

"There is still work that needs to be done to address what was lost at these sites," he said. "I believe we will accomplish what we need to by working together."

Representatives of the tribal commission, the four tribes, the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Corps of Engineers cooperated to implement the project. Together, the 31 fishing access sites occupy about 700 acres along the Columbia River from Bonneville Dam to McNary Dam.