The transfer of WSDOT land south of the Odabashian Brige and north of the Pipeline Bridge for the Apple Capital Loop Trail marked a highpoint in community collaboration (see the Empire Press article last week and my previous blog. The transfer to Douglas County and East Wenatchee created new responsibilities to integrate the recreational, tourist, commercial, residential, native and historic opportunities that lie within those lands.
“It’s going to be interesting,” said Steve Jenkins, Chair, Douglas County Commissioners. “There’s a lot future out there. It’s a huge asset for us to develop properly.”
Dan Sarles, Regional WSDOT Director said his agency is beginning to surplus approximately 77 acres, 28 of which are west of the trail, a process depending on interest from developers and state funding.
“We look to surplus all of the properties at fair market value, including to local agencies, such as the City and County,” he said.
Recreational plans are already proposed for the shoreline immediately south of Odabashian Bridge and at Porter’s Pond, the wooded waterfront just south of the 19th Street trailhead. The Chelan PUD committed to those plans in Exhibit R, a 1978 filing with FERC as part of relicensing the Rocky Reach Dam, according to Jim Huffman, Port of Douglas County Commissioner and former Chelan PUD employee.
Huffman believes local public ownership creates an immediate opportunity to provide recreation consistent with preserving native habitat by limiting public access to planned recreational areas, And he believes the property transfer means the Chelan PUD could fulfill its mandate without having to pay money for land now in public ownership.
“The window of opportunity to accomplish [the recreational plans] could open and close quickly,” Huffman said. “The PUD, WSDOT and the local governments should initiate discussions in the near term.”
The County funded the Port of Douglas to conduct the North End Master Plan and Feasibility Study of the east end of the Odabashian Bridge to recommend the public and private investment needed for development. The primary study area is the land south of the bridge where views sweep across the Wenatchee and Columbia Rivers to the Cascades from empty parcels populated by for-sale signs. (See the map details at the Port of Douglas website).
“But development has largely been held up by inadequate utilities and transportation infrastructure, and the lack of a cohesive and cost-effective plan among several public entities to enable that work to get done,” said Lisa Parks, executive director of the Port of Douglas County.
Public input is wanted along with the preferences of present property owners and stakeholders. The plan is due in the fall of 2013. The public can contact the Port at 884-4700 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ownership of the trail is making changes for East Wenatchee. For example, tts going to require an expanded maintenance agreement with the Eastmont Metropolitan Park District, according to Lori Barnett, Director of Planning for the city.
“If there are blowouts or homeless camps, we’re responsible now,” she said. “We need to sit down with [the Park District] and work out new roles and responsibilities.”
Barnett said the City is also interested in three approximately-one-acre parcels to be surplused on 15th and 19th streets adjacent to the trail. The City could acquire any or all of those parcels for parks and recreation or improve infrastructure for private development. The City has funds from the sale of a riverfront view parcel to WSDOT for land south of George Sellar Bridge.
“What we do will depend on potential development, the value WSDOT assigns and other costs to see what is the biggest bank for our buck,” she said.
The grander visions of the trail articulated in earlier studies should begin immediately. A foundation to raise funds to preserve the native habitat west of the trail should be started. Historic sites exist on the east side where Native Americans have expressed interest in developing attractions for visitors. And everybody should be interested in an organization to administer the trail on both sides of the river and north to Lincoln Rock State Park.
The Trail could be an even greater asset and we need to fulfill our responsibilities now that we own it.