Access dwindles for anglers

Fazios to enforce Tena Bar closure on Columbia River to avoid liability risks

By Allen Thomas, Columbian outdoors reporter

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photoRichard Fazio, who owns the Tena Bar on The Columbia River with his two brothers, gives a tour of his property on Friday. The brothers have recently closed public access to the property which is popular with fishermen due to insurance liability.

(/The Columbian)

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Richard Fazio said he understands there's good fishing off the bank at Tena Bar, the sandy Columbia River beach downstream of Vancouver that has been in his family's ownership since the 1950s.

That is why in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, Fazio and his brothers allowed public access to their mile of shoreline for just 25 cents a day, collecting enough money to do a bit of road maintenance.

That is why the Fazios have allowed a private club of senior-age anglers called the Sand Tampers to use the beach for $50 a year, provided each member signs an agreement waiving the right to sue in the case of an accident.

But the Fazios also operate a 14-acre sand-mining operation at Tena Bar and understand the huge insurance liability they face if someone on their land gets hurt or killed.

So Richard Fazio, 64, the youngest of three surviving brothers, has the unenviable task of telling trespassers at Tena Bar that they have to leave.

"I don't like it, but I don't know what else to do,'' he said.

Actually, the bar has been closed to the public -- except the Sand Tampers -- since the 1980s.

"Since Frenchmen's Bar (slightly upstream) became a county park, this has become much more of a recreation area,'' Fazio said. "In the last three or four years, we've gotten more and more people showing up, camping, staying two or three days, drinking and leaving garbage.''

The federal Mine Safety Health Administration requires a fence around the sand mine. But fences get cut and "no trespassing'' signs are torn down.

"I've got liability issues,'' he said. "If people get with 20 or 30 feet of the edge of the sand bank, it could collapse. We have potential fatalities. I can't take that risk.''

So, Tena Bar, except at low water levels, is off limits.

Anglers called the state Department of Natural Resources complaining that the Fazios put a fence on public land.

A survey for the Fazios by Minister & Glaeser Surveying of Vancouver determined the family owns down to 4.385 feet Columbia River Datum.

Steven Ivey, aquatic land surveyor for the state Department of Natural Resources, said Tuesday he was asked to review the survey and found no flaws.

Columbia River Datum is the measuring stick used by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to determine river height.

Ivey said the line of mean high tide is normally the boundary used to determine privately owned uplands and publicly owned beach.

The Columbia River is complicated due to the interplay of tidal influence and streamflow released out of Bonneville Dam, Ivey said.

Because dredge spoils are intermittently deposited at Tena Bar, the boundary is not determined at the vegetation line, he said.

"At the Fazios, it's complicated and site-specific,'' Ivey said.

The Columbia drops to 4.38 feet in July and mostly stays below that height until about Thanksgiving, according to tables compiled by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Only the beach lower than 4.38 feet is public.

"These people would tell me it's public property,'' Fazio said. "Now, I know where the boundaries are. It's private. I feel like I've got a bullseye on back. If someone gets hurt, I'm liable.''

"We're asking people nicely to leave,'' he added. "They can go to Frenchmen's Bar or Caterpillar Island, which is owned by DNR. There's public land at Davis Bar, too.''