North Bonneville: A Transported Town

When dam construction first began in 1933, tents and shanties began to dot the landscape. As years passed, and the dam construction continued, people began to settle permanently and begin small businesses to provide for the needs of dam laborers and employees. The town came to be known as North Bonneville. In 1971, the Army Corps of Engineers announced their decision to follow through with the original plans for a second hydroelectric powerhouse. North Bonneville was in the way, so the Army Corps began buying up the town.

The people of North Bonneville, numbering over 600, did not want to be run out of their homes, and therefore decided to stay and fight. A contract was signed in 1975, in which the Corps agreed to build a school, new municipal buildings and utilities, plus provide 125,000 acres of ranch land for parks. After buying up North Bonneville, they would purchase new land to sell to the residents. An article published in the New York Times newspaper in 1975 describes the razing of the town: "Giant metal cranes loom over the area as residents flee. Growling earthmovers carve up the yards and topple the trees, knock over the houses and haul the remnants away." The old town site eventually became submerged in the Columbia River.

In October of 1991, the transported North Bonneville, located 2 miles down river from its original location, declared bankruptcy over a sum of $365,181.32 owed to the government. According to an article in The Seattle Times "The corps sold many residential lots but it refused to convey commercial lots... Businesses were bought out but had no place to relocate. Of the 758 residents eligible for relocation, 360 did so" (Haberstroh, 1991). The town had 47 businesses in the old town and not one survived. North Bonneville did not receive all of the promised land, some of it was turned into a wildlife refuge, and some was used as a waste site for the powerhouse project.

Eighteen lawsuits over the new town have been filed since the contract was signed in 1975. In 1987 a U.S. Claims Court decided that the town of North Bonneville owes the Army Corps $365,000 for the cost of maintaining and operating new municipal facilities such as street lights and the sewer system. According the Seattle Times article, "since the powerhouse opened in 1983, it usually has operated only half-days for six months out of every year,...[and] accompanying structures to protect migrating salmon never worked."

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