WENATCHEE — After passing the first round toward getting a $6 million state appropriation, the Washington Growers League is ready to move forward on a new farmworker housing project, and is looking for property near the Odabashian Bridge.
“We’re still in the application process,” said Mike Gempler, executive director for the Growers League. “But because we have very specific objectives and locations and market research, we’re ready to make it happen.”
The Growers League operates the Sage Bluff camp in Malaga, which opened last year and houses up to 270 workers in 41 housing units.
If funding is ultimately approved, Gempler said, the Columbia Confluence Farmworker Housing will be about as big as the facility in Malaga, but plans for it are just preliminary.
Gempler said he’s not at liberty to say exactly what property they’re considering, or whether it’s in Chelan or Douglas counties.
A new facility on either side of the Odabashian Bridge could provide housing to help growers in both Chelan and Douglas counties, he said.
“We feel the need exists, and we feel the location is one that can service both sides of the river, going north from Wenatchee as well as in the Monitor, Dryden and Cashmere area,” he said.
Commissioners in both Chelan and Douglas counties had not yet heard about the project.
“Hopefully, they’ll be very public about it,” said Douglas County Commissioner Dale Snyder, adding, “We don’t want another issue like they had by 19th Street.”
That proposal by the Chelan County-Wenatchee Housing Authority for a new $8.5 million farmworker facility north of 19th Street Northwest in East Wenatchee was stalled when a group of neighbors organized opposition to it, but was eventually completed.
Chelan County Commissioner Ron Walter said he, too, was unaware of the proposal for a new housing project. But, “I know we need the housing,” he said.
Funding to operate migrant housing at the Wenatchee River County Park in Monitor was extended through this year’s cherry season, Walter said, and the state’s budget came out so late, he wasn’t certain of its future, with the state’s budget coming out so late.
Donn Etherington, manager of the Monitor Park camp, said the camp is currently full, and he’s had to turn away more than 100 workers, some of them with families. “The amount of beds we have currently don’t meet our needs,” he said. And with predictions that the cherry crop will get bigger, that need will only grow.
He said in the big picture, the new farmworker housing is definitely needed, but should not replace housing at Monitor Park.
Gempler said the Growers League believes the new housing will be needed and used regardless of whether Monitor Park is funded, and Walter agreed.
Walter also commended the Growers League’s Sage Bluff project in Malaga, a government-financed, grower-owned camp that opened last year.
“It looks like a model that’s worked,” he said.
The $6 million, awarded in the state’s capital budget in two $3 million phases, has not yet been awarded, Gempler said. “We still have to apply, and qualify, and go through some steps,” he said. But with the project included in the state’s capital budget, the Growers League can try to finalize a purchase agreement, he said. adding, “We really can’t announce anything until there’s funding provided by the state.”