Let the river run wild? Farmer plans for fish habitat

Fazio family wants to purposely flood farmland and turn it into a fish habitat

The Fazio family has owned farmland along the Columbia for decades, but now they want to do something new. (KOIN)
The Fazio family has owned farmland along the Columbia for decades, but now they want to do something new. (KOIN)

VANCOUVER, Wash. (KOIN) — The Fazio family has been farming along the Columbia River for decades, but years of river currents and waves from ships passing by have eaten away at the dike that protects their land.

Now they want to give up farming and try something else.

The Fazio family has owned farmland along the Columbia for decades, but now they want to do something new. (KOIN)

“It’s good ground,” Richard Fazio told KOIN 6 News. “It raises good crops.”

Part of the Fazio’s property west of downtown Vancouver became famous years ago when a boy found thousands of dollars buried on their beach.

It’s the only clue ever found in the infamous DB Cooper hijacking case.

“There’s not too many people along the Columbia who own land like this,” Fazio said.

But now his property is getting attention for a much different reason: A county road sitting on top of the dike that protects Fazio’s farm is falling into the river.

Fazio sent a letter to Clark County more than a decade ago, asking for help with the dike he said was “in immediate need of repair.”

Richard Fazio talks to Dan Tilkin on his farmland outside of Vancouver. (KOIN)
Richard Fazio talks to Dan Tilkin on his farmland outside of Vancouver. (KOIN)

In 2006 the county said no, writing “while a breach of the dike is likely if a major flood occurs, the potential damage to private property does not warrant the significant public expense required to make the necessary repairs.”

Now, the Fazio’s and adjoining landowner Andersen Dairy want to give up farming and try something new.

“This will probably be one of the largest… privately held conservation projects in the Columbia River estuary,” habitat restoration engineer David Gorman said.

Their plan is to flood the farmland on purpose and turn it into nearly 300 acres of fish habitat. The Fazios and their partners would then sell something called “fish credits” to government agencies and companies to offset harm they do to other fish habitats.

For instance, if the state needed to build a bridge in a river, or if the Port of Vancouver wanted to develop its waterfront property, the “fish credits” could help.

Diagrams filed with the county call for cutting gaps in the dike in 2 more places. (KOIN)
Diagrams filed with the county call for cutting gaps in the dike in 2 more places. (KOIN)

Diagrams filed with the county call for cutting gaps in the dike in 2 more places and connecting Post Office Lake with Round Lake on the Fazio’s farmland so river water can flow through.

“It’s intended to let water in, that’s the whole purpose of this,” Jan Bazala, who is doing the land use review for Clark County’s Department of Community Development. “I believe it is going to be approved.”

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But not everyone agrees.

Phillip Massey, who used to pilot giant ships on the Columbia River, is against the plan. Some bicyclists also don’t like the part of the plan that involves giving ownership of the public road and the dike to the Fazios and their partners.

Massey said he thinks the county and state should force shipowners to fix the damage caused by their waves to keep the road open for the public’s enjoyment.

The Fazio family has owned farmland along the Columbia for decades, but now they want to do something new. (KOIN)
The Fazio family has owned farmland along the Columbia for decades, but now they want to do something new. (KOIN)

“If I were a Clark County resident I would be really mad about that,” Massey said. “I’ve got this road and you’re giving it away?”

In a deed from the 1950s, the landowners before the Fazios gave the county a right of way for the dike and road. They added a provision that the land be given back if the road and dike were no longer used.

County councilors will discuss what to do with the land at a 10 a.m. hearing Tuesday.

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