Renaissance Trail’s closure riles residents

City lacks funds for repairs to section of popular path along Columbia River

By Andrea Damewood, Columbian staff writer

Published:

 

The waterfront trail near Tidewater Cove remains closed due to last winter's washout. What should be done?

  • The city should make it a priority and repair it ASAP. Take the money from the general fund if need be. 21%
  • The trail should remain closed until it makes its way to the top of the parks priority list. 30%
  • The trail should be repaired and the bill sent to the Tidewater Cove condo owners, who live the closest and benefit the most. 18%
  • Leave the taxpayers out of it. The trail should remain closed until some donor or private group agrees to pay for the repairs. 31%

238 total votes.

It’s a problem that Paul Schwabe can see right out his living room window.

Schwabe, who lives in the Tidewater Cove Condominiums, has a sweeping view of the Columbia River — and the barriers blocking off a swath of the popular Renaissance Trail that has been closed since flooding in June eroded the river’s banks and made the path unsafe.

In one section, the bank has cut completely underneath and destabilized the concrete path, which runs along the sandy shores of the Columbia from the Interstate 5 bridge east to Wintler Park.

And despite the clear warnings — the city’s put a temporary fence in on both sides and posted signs — dozens of walkers and runners choose to skirt the barriers, rather than detour onto Columbia Way.

“The city put the barriers up, but they’re no good,” Schwabe said, adding the landscaping is being trampled. “People are trespassing on our property to get to that section of the trail.”

Schwabe, who is also the real estate broker for the upscale Tidewater Cove Condominiums, said he was told that work would be done to fix at least the west end of the closure by the fall. He said he’s “put out” that hasn’t happened.

It’s likely he will have to wait a lot longer.

Competing priorities

Vancouver doesn’t know the extent of the damage, or how much repairs will cost, but Parks Director Pete Mayer said it will be costly. And it’s money his cash-strapped department doesn’t have.

So to fix it, the city council would have to agree to pull money from other departments, or find other ways to pay for it.

“We are proceeding with trying to tackle this program, and tough decisions will need to be made,” Mayer said. “Things of this nature are not inexpensive to fix.”

Mayer estimated just the geotechnical work and initial design will cost between $100,000 and $200,000. Construction would be more than that. To put that kind of money into perspective, a $425,000 shortfall in the fire department’s budget forced the chief to cut an entire medical rescue unit.

“There are many competing challenges and priorities across the city, so that’s where some ongoing difficult decisions have to be made about (repairing the trail),” Mayer said.

Still, he said that his department will ask the city council to approve the initial design work — which will give them a handle on how extensive the needed repairs will be — within the next few months.

Schwabe, as he surveyed the path, said he’s tired of the delays. He appealed to the city council on Dec. 12 for action.

“I know parks is constrained with its budget, but this repair is not that big of a deal,” he said. “It’s not building something new, it’s repairing something old.”

The west end of the closure appears to be in far better shape than the east end, where the bank will have to be rebuilt completely. Because of the trail’s proximity to the river, any work will also need local, state and Army Corps of Engineers clearance.

“It’s not just simply repairing a path that could be subject to similar environmental conditions in the future,” Mayer said. “It’s safeguarding so we won’t have a situation like this in the future.”

Despite the cold, Vancouver resident Barbara Frank also walked with her Jack Russell terrier, Frosty, just outside the barriers last week. She said she hopes the path will reopen soon.

“We walk every day, Frosty and I,” Frank said. “We just love being close to the water, and there are different types of birds we love seeing.”

Mayer said he’s well aware of the path’s integral spot in many people’s exercise and recreation routines.

“There’s no question this is a beloved and popular regional trail, as well an attractive amenity for the condos and businesses along there,” he said.

Andrea Damewood: 360-735-4542 or andrea.damewood@columbian.com or www.facebook.com/reporterdamewood or www.twitter.com/col_cityhall