Corps, anticipating (correctly) restoration of its budget, was moving
implacably ahead, Dickson was, to use a much-maligned phrase, winning the
battle for men's hearts and minds. A council member recalls a night when the
head of the appraising team lost his temper and roared at Dickson, "Neither
you nor this little town is going to tell the Federal Government what to
do!" In the shocked stillness that followed, Dickson gently asked, "Who
is the Federal Government, sir?"
There were ploys
and counterploys, but until Congress passed what now is enshrined in the Gorge
as "the McCormack legislation," the only real weapons North Bonneville
had were Pollard Dickson's virtuosity and Ernie Skala's Gothic inflexibility.
Dickson seemed to have read all the law that pertained to eminent domain. He
knew the history of the Corps (and the Gorge). He knew the Evergreen research
backward and forward. He knew when to yell and when to walk softly. Outside the
cramped town hall meeting room the winter winds howled, sometimes east,
By the time Mike
McCormack's bill became part of Public Law 93-251 on March 7, 1974, North
Bonneville already had taken a good many casualties. The Corps-appointed
appraisers had okayed buy-outs all over town. Some people had had enough of the
engineers and the weather.
wasn't over," Dickson says, "though some people seemed to think it was.
I knew the next round would be over the town's selection of Hamilton Island and
its infringement on the Corps' spoils area and future park. First thing I did
was get in touch with the environmental groups—the Sierra Club, the Mazamas,
everybody. They seemed to understand and they never opposed our relocating the
town on the park site." It was a cheeringly rational response. With Beacon
Rock state park next door and seven-eighths of the county a wilderness full of
deer, elk, fish and just plain adventure, Skamania needs another park like
Brooklyn needs another slum.
Gilkey, the district engineer, requested a town meeting in March of 1974 and
came upstream to meet the people. He heard a lot of arguments for the Hamilton
Island site from Bob Holcomb and others, but a dignified old man named Lee
Miller brought down the scabrous North Bonneville School house (and,
apparently, the colonel) with an inquiry that managed to be both specious and
shopworn, but trenchant. Miller said he had lived on the banks of the Columbia
for 63 years and had seen much that he valued destroyed. "I don't like to
see people pushed," Miller said. "If our government can spend $2
million on a missile and shoot it out into the Pacific Ocean just to see if
it'll shoot, why in hell can't they build a town for the people of North
Bonneville without all this squabbling over a patch of ground where they want
to dump some dirt?" Two months later the Corps approved the Hamilton Island
townsite in principle.
It was, and is, a
famous victory. "To my knowledge," Pollard Dickson says, "this was
the first time in its history that the Corps of Engineers had ever let go of a
significant area of land already designated for a project." But like a lot
of famous victories, it didn't end the war. It took six months of negotiating,
sometimes around the clock, a TV show and a lawsuit to get the Corps to provide
the financial and planning assistance specified by Section 83 of PL 93-251.
The TV show, a
30-minute documentary by Seattle's KOMO, made Colonel Gilkey look like the
wicked mortgage holder in a Horatio Alger novel, with the townspeople playing
pluck-and-not-much-luck. The Corps didn't care for this image, and in late July
the engineers signed a contract that gave North Bonneville enough money to
engage its own planning staff. The council immediately chose Pollard Dickson as
planning director and hired an able Tacoma lawyer, James Mason, as city
The Corps still
wouldn't approve any design firm the town picked to do the final plan.
"They were just tryin' to starve us out," Mayor Skala says. In October
of 1974 North Bonneville sued in federal court to enjoin construction of the
powerhouse. Lawyer Mason charged the Corps with breach of the midsummer
contract and violation of EPA regulations. Sometimes the Corps seemed to move
with glacial slowness toward a decision. But not this time. The next day North
Bonneville got the go-ahead: pick your firm and put your town on Hamilton
Island. The town signed a $750,000 design contract with Royston, Hanamoto, Beck
and Abey of San Francisco.
The war seemed to
be over. Last December Mayor Skala and Colonel Gilkey issued a joint statement
that said all residents had the option of buying Corps-improved lots at
unimproved value in the new town. It said the Corps agreed to replace 100% of
existing municipal facilities, including sewer and water systems, and that they
would be upgraded to current standards. It emphasized that the RHB&A
design—due in May—would provide "all necessary planning information for the
growth and development of an optimum town." This last meant a site that
would give the town room to expand should tourists flock in.
completed its design a month early. It was beautiful, even though the town had
made a number of concessions. It had given the Columbia River frontage to the
Corps for the spoils area and day-use park, thus providing a windscreen of
contoured hills for the new site. It had abandoned a demand for rerouting the
Burlington Railroad tracks. The Corps, in return, had agreed to switch the
highway to the river side of the tracks, and to buy up land west and north of
the site for resale to North Bonneville to fulfill the "optimum" town