Camp Melacoma close to reopening

New system will treat tainted water

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It appears that Washougal’s Camp Melacoma will reopen this summer, now that it has a way to treat water containing naturally occurring arsenic that forced its closure four years ago.

“We can hardly wait to get the kids back in here,” said Dodi Jensen, who with her husband Andy Jensen are caretakers of the 120-acre former Camp Fire facility. The couple are inviting volunteers this weekend and the next to help clear trails, paint and prepare the bunkhouses to welcome campers this summer.

The rustic youth camp and surrounding forest are more than 13 miles north of state Highway 14 in Skamania County, just off the winding Washougal River Road.

The Jensens expect to install a water treatment system within the next 30 days, said Dodi Jensen. She reported good news from a recent site inspection by state and county health department officials, Janet Cherry, a regional engineer with the Washington Department of Health, and Nikki Hollatz, an environmental health specialist with Skamania County.

“They’re not going to make us do the 11-month pilot study,” Jensen said, referring to a typical waiting and testing period to be sure the system is working.

The officials expect to waive the testing period after documenting success with a similar water treatment system on the property, which the Jensens installed in their caretakers’ cottage. That system has passed several annual inspections, Dodi Jensen said.

She now plans to install a much larger-scale system to serve the entire camp of 11 bunkhouse-style cabins and two lodges. The treatment system will use reverse osmosis, commonly known for changing seawater into drinking water. The technology is touted as one that removes naturally occurring arsenic, leaving drinking water with less than 10 parts per billion.

The Jensens expect to spend between $35,000 and $50,000 on the larger system for the whole camp. It will be housed in an on-site building that’s now used for maintenance projects, Jensen said.

“We’re repurposing our shop,” she said of the building, which is about 40 feet by 60 feet. She expects the system will treat all the water for the camp’s kitchen, restrooms and outdoor spigots.

Closed since 2010

The camp, formerly owned by Portland-based Camp Fire Columbia, was shut down in 2010 by the county’s then health officer Alan Melnick after routine tests of the water. Camp Fire did not treat the well, but instead sold the site to the nonprofit Camp Melacoma Association, headed by the Jensens, for $150,000. The camp’s acreage, much of it donated by the Wineberg family, is valued at more than $1.25 million.

The Jensens were ordered to clean up the arsenic-tainted water before the camp could reopen. They now have at least four groups signed up to camp at the facility this summer, said Dodi Jensen, who said she wants to protect the site from development and hopes it will perpetually remain a youth camp.

“This has been a kids camp since 1947,” she said. “It would have been a shame for it to be turned over for development. I felt compelled to save it.”