Holcomb had just
been elected county commissioner ("I thought I might have more clout than
as mayor") when one of his inquiries paid off. Russ Fox, a professor of
urban planning at Evergreen State College, in Olympia, Wash., was willing to
send some students. Before he took office in January 1973, Holcomb handed Ernie
Skala, his successor as mayor, a valuable legacy: Dave Hussell, the bright
young administrative assistant he had hired soon after the original Corps
announcement, and a promise from Fox of student interns.
Skala, spare and
tanned and 63, was glad to have the students' help, even though they were long
haired and some were girls (until then the feminist revolution had just been a
nasty rumor in the Gorge). "I really didn't want the job of mayor,"
Skala says, "but I had to take it because I wanted to save the town. After
I'd retired I just spent all my time fishing and hunting, and I couldn't claim
I was needed for any other job. So I couldn't say no." What Skala had
retired from was a job with—surprise—the Corps of Engineers, but he had not
learned much about the engineering bureaucracy in 14 years of swabbing paint on
When the news
reached Portland that Bob Holcomb was no longer mayor, and that the town was
being run by an old Corps painter and a bunch of hippies, the engineers must
have thought the war was over. Nobody told them that one of the hippies was a
burly 6-footer with the command presence of a general, the tenacity of a
bulldog and an appetite for work that at times awed his new colleagues on the
town council. All the Evergreen team was determined, and most of its members
put in 12-hour days. Pollard R. Dickson managed about 18, partly because he was
trying to support himself.
didn't have any money," Dickson says, "so I got a cabin and board at
Bonneville Hot Springs [a nearby resort] in return for mowing the lawns and
collecting the garbage." From the start he exuded an air of permanence.
"I had a great personal response to the people in this town," Dickson
says. "I grew up in a town on Puget Sound called Gig Harbor, and I know
what it means to sacrifice to get the things you really want. I worked in
Alaska on fishing boats every summer for nine years to put myself through
Washington State University and its school of architecture. I felt—and feel
even more now—respect for the North Bonneville people's ability to resist and
their personal sense of dignity as human beings." Like an eager
archaeologist prospecting Mesopotamia, Pollard Dickson had found his dig.
had eyed the hippies with suspicion at first, but within a few months the
residents were won over. About this time two important things happened: a
delegation including Pollard was asked by Congressman Mike McCormack to assist
in drafting a bill that would specifically empower the Corps to provide
financial and technical assistance to the town. And the Corps, maybe to keep an
eye on the hippies, repeated its old offer. Instead of just rejecting the
suggestion—though they did that, too—the council members popped back with a
counterproposal. They invited the Corps to join town and state officials on an
interagency relocation board.
thrust has been to get the Corps to face our people," Dickson says.
"Real people—not just some abstraction like 'the people.' We figured the
board would be a way to get the engineers up here, not just once in a while but
enough to see how this town felt." The engineers agreed, cautiously, to sit
on the board, provided that it was "only advisory." Later they were to
regret this tactical blunder.
All during the
summer of 1973 Dickson drove himself and his four subalterns through North
Bonneville, interviewing its people and infusing them with his hot Irish rage
at the Corps of Engineers. "We talked to everybody—absolutely
everybody—about what they wanted in a new town, Dickson recalls. "We talked
to kids. Little kids. Who does that? We got 'em to show us their paths and
trails and secret hidey-holes, and we programmed all that into the planning
study." By fall there wasn't a soul in North Bonneville from nine to 90 who
didn't know Pollard Dickson, with his dirty Adidas shoes, his scruffy jeans and
his soft white face under a helmet haircut that covered his ears but framed
hazel eyes. Dickson was following an age-old military precept: to win a war, it
is not enough to disagree with the enemy; you've got to hate him.
Before the Corps
came to the relocation board table that fall, Dickson had moved his wife
Darlene and their two young sons into a rented cottage in the doomed city.
Nobody was going to call him an outside agitator. He was ready for a fire
dismayed by the fact that the town still didn't have much law going for it, and
only one dubious precedent—the engineers had been obliged to move a small town
in Nebraska because one of their dams had accidentally half-drowned it. Like a
good trial lawyer, he could tell right (his side) from wrong (their side). In
Dickson's view, Niobrara, Neb. had been raped; North Bonneville was being
mugged. Bob Holcomb, who was a member of the board, says now, "We never
could have made it without Pollard, but I guess if I'd still been mayor I'd
have tried to hold him down a little." Ernie Skala didn't try. In his own
quiet way the mayor led the council members in rock-hard support of their
1973 the Corps announced it would begin acquiring property for the powerhouse
project and sent civilian appraisers into North Bonneville. The Corps had
promised that it would buy up land as needed, and did not contemplate
scattershot acquisitions. After the first buy-out, the actions of the
appraisers seemed to contradict that pledge. "They went through this town
like army ants." Dickson charges. "They knew that if enough people
could be persuaded to move, there wouldn't be any town to relocate. I call it
coercion by seduction."