A plan by the Stevens County Commissioners and area school districts to restart the state fish hatchery in Colville as an educational facility has taken its first official step, as the Washington State Fish and Wildlife Commission approved the county buying back the 19.4 acre property on Jan. 11.
The county will purchase the property for $150,000 for a 15 to 20 year term that will be negotiated.
The county had “quit claimed” the fish hatchery to the state in 1933 after operating it for nearly 80 years. However, the state shuttered the facility in 2011 and moved most of the fish production to the Spokane hatchery due to budget cuts, according to a press release by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.
At a public hearing regarding the county’s bid for the facility on Jan. 10, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife fish biologist John Whalen said the property had been assessed at a value of $450,000 that includes a small house on the property.
“When the state was operating this facility, we produced 400,000 fry a year that were around four inches in size. Those fish were then planted in area lakes,” Whalen related. “For the educational program that is being created, we recommend starting out with raising 60,000 fry a year.”
As part of the sale agreement, the state will aid the county and their partners by providing the fish eggs for the project as well as technical assistance.
The county will own the facility and partner with area school districts to create a training program for students. Kettle Falls High School vocational teacher Jono Esvelt is drafting plans for the classes the facility will offer and has already secured a $5,000 construction grant from Lowes to help refurbish the buildings.
Esvelt will be working with Spokane based NEWTECH Skills Center, a publicly funded vocational program open to high schools students that offers training in construction, cosmetology, criminal justice, health, veterinary, welding and other fields. Just like the NEWTECH programs in Spokane, the fish hatchery program will be open to both regular public school students, as well as homeschool and private school students.
“This program will really strengthen the economic base of our community. Right now Kettle Falls has a 90 percent graduation rate and 80 percent of those students go to college or the military, which is great, but this facility will help us not just train kids to leave the area,” said Kettle Falls High School Principal Jim Hill.
Stevens County Commissioner Don Dashiell said participating in a program like this one could help students feel motivated to expand their educational options.
“There are kids who may think they want to become a fish biologist, but they don’t know that you might need to take advanced biology or calculus, so this could give them some incentive,” said Dashiell. “It’s like a spawning ground for fish biologists.”
The Rainbow and Cutthroat Trout that will be produced at the facility will provide additional fish for local lakes and boost the local economy, according to Fish and Wildlife Commissioner Gary Douvia. In addition, the county will have the option to make a “fish in lieu of cash” payment to the state on the purchase price of the hatchery.
By Jamie Henneman, Special to The Independent