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Man’s retirement property standing in way of $200 million project

Robert Zornes, an RV park owner in Forks, got a little more than he bargained for when he purchased a 100-acre riverfront property on the Columbia River where he dreamed of one day retiring with his wife.

“We actually really just wanted a retirement place where we could walk and kind of get out of the mainstream of life,” Zornes told KIRO Radio’s Ross and Burbank Show.

Looking to cash in on the buyer’s market during the recession, Zornes couldn’t pass up the big property on the Columbia River and actually bought it for $100,000 sight unseen.

“We felt like we had to move pretty fast on this property. It had been lowered from a quarter million dollars,” Zornes says.

At first it was a process of discovery, he says, exploring their new land. It was actually some passing travelers that turned him onto some of the historical significance of the place.

“It was actually two hobos that hopped off the train and said ‘Where’s the cave at?’ Then I realized that there must be a cave here and there must be some knowledge of it.”

The cave the “hobos” were looking for was a small cave on the property known for old Native American art drawings on its walls. This was only the first site of historical significance Zornes found of on his property. He later discovered Lewis and Clarke had passed through, and it also had been a huge Native American fishing ground.

He soon also learned, as he put it, “Everything is in jeopardy.” A Bonneville Power Administration transmission-tower construction product is threatening the historically significant area, Zornes believes.

He thinks the new tower, which is actually replacing an old tower, but is larger, will threaten the integrity of the cave and could diminish an area that is very unique in its beauty and historical significance.

“Just to install it, a tower requires a crater 38 foot deep and probably 100 foot plus wide, and it’s in the proximity of the cave, which is what you would call a fracture cave, so it’s subject to collapse.”

For those interested in viewing the Native American cave drawings and the areas Lewis and Clarke traveled, Zornes thinks a huge tower might negatively impact the experience.

“What would you think of if you went to Egypt and saw a transmission tower on top of a pyramid?”

In order to deal with Zornes’ concerns and other interested parties, including the Yakama Indian Nation and Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail preservationists, BPA has put the $200 million project on hold.

Zornes says he doesn’t want to stand in the way of progress, but progress has to take history into account.

“We’re not opposed to progress, but progress has to be tempered by not only the environment, it has to be also tempered by historical structures or historical locations.”

BPA tells The Seattle Times they will continue with the project, but want to listen to all sides and reach an agreement.

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