A controversial plan to study an alternate route for the Olympic Discovery Trail east of Port Angeles survived a flood of opposition this week.
The City Council voted 4-2 Tuesday, June 1, to keep an upland ODT plan as an unfunded line item in the city’s 2022-2027 capital facilities plan despite calls from more that two dozen trail users to remove it from the 318-page document.
The council then voted unanimously — with Charlie McCaughan excused — to direct staff to move the upland ODT plan and nearly $600,000 worth of riprap repairs to the existing waterfront trail from parks to transportation projects in the five-year infrastructure plan.
Twenty-seven public speakers expressed unanimous support for maintaining the waterfront trail as it exists between Ennis Creek and Morse Creek.
The upland route would leave the waterfront at those two ravines and travel though the eastern Port Angeles Urban Growth Area, bypassing 2½ miles of waterfront trail that is prone to mudslides, floods and storm-related closures.
“I hope that the majority of the council will reject this unrealistic proposal,” said Rich James, a Peninsula Trails Coalition board member and retired Clallam County transportation planner who spent 28 years planning, funding and constructing the ODT.
The City Council has no plans to close the existing waterfront trail, which is part of a two-county trail system that will eventually connect Port Townsend to La Push. The upland trail would be an alternative to the city-owned segment of the ODT.
“I want to be clear that there is no proposal on the table to abandon the waterfront trail,” Council member Lindsey Schromen-Wawrin said in the virtual meeting Tuesday.
“Those (trails) are separate projects, and I think two trails are better than one.”
The city’s proposed five-year capital facilities plan includes $593,000 for riprap repairs along the existing waterfront trail, which was built atop a historic railroad grade.
Several speakers who testified Tuesday or left pre-recorded voicemail messages said the existing trail is a “gem” that needs more maintenance from the city.
“Rather than spending money on legal fees to acquire a new right-of-way and possibly defend against lawsuits for this proposed move, Port Angeles would be better off spending their money on engineering and construction to preserve this exquisite waterfront trail on the existing right-of-way,” Paul Kolesnikoff said during public comment.
Jeff Bohman, Peninsula Trails Coalition board president, said the upland route was a “premature concept” that was distracting from the city’s maintenance responsibilities.
“I think you’ve heard clear and unanimous expression so far about the importance of the trail,” Bohman told the council.
“This is a subject that these comments illustrate has 101 different dimensions to it, and we with the Trails Coalition stand ready to work closely with the council and staff to address the maintenance that is really called for.”
Peninsula Trails Coalition supports 14 federal, state, county, city and tribal jurisdictions that are responsible for various segments of the Olympic Discovery Trail.
“This is a multi-jurisdictional trail system that is bigger than the city of Port Angeles,” City Council member Mike French said before making a motion to delete the upland route from the infrastructure plan.
“If we want to talk about more dedicated bike lanes, enhancing our transportation system, providing spokes on and off of the ODT, I’m 100 percent all for that,” French added.
“We don’t need to have an alternate route project in the capital facilities plan to do that. We just need to take our own complete streets ethos seriously, and I think we are on that path.”
The City Council spent half of its five-hour meeting Tuesday focused on the waterfront trail, hearing testimony from seven public speakers and 20 others who left voice messages for the record.
Troy Treaccar, owner of Sound Bikes & Kayaks in downtown Port Angeles, said the 4½-mile section of waterfront trail between Red Lion Hotel and Morse Creek is the only family-friendly bike path in the city because it is isolated from vehicle traffic and flat.
“Anyone can ride this trail, from grandparents to grandkids, and it’s critical to our business,” Treaccar said.
James said the waterfront trail had more than 200,000 users last year. Sensors were placed on the trail in 2017, providing the user data.
“Walking or riding this segment is a very unique experience for an urban area, as users are quickly immersed in a quiet waterfront environment beside the Salish Sea to the north and a beautiful vegetative bluff to the south,” James told the City Council.
“The location of the waterfront trail on a flat railroad grade gives bicycle users a time-efficient alternative to car use, providing bike riders with a great incentive to reduce their carbon footprint,” James said.
A longer and steeper upland route would be a deterrent for commuters, families, the elderly and wheelchair users, James said.
More than 2,000 people, many from out of the state, will use the waterfront trail this weekend in the 19th running of the North Olympic Discovery Marathon and it’s satellite events.
Most of the recent storm damage along the waterfront trail has occurred between mileposts 3 and 4.
Kolesnikoff, who was drawn to Port Angeles from trail-friendly Boulder, Colo., about five years ago, said the slumping bluff could be stabilized by topping certain trees to prevent them from uprooting during windstorms.
“The second issue is that there’s a lot of water coming from above the bluff,” Kolesnikoff said.
“This is a drainage problem with impermeable stuff up there and poor routing of the drainage, and we should be looking into how to best handle stormwater above the bluff.”
Later in the meeting, French made a motion to delete the upland ODT plan — item PK-0121 — from the capital facilities plan.
The motion failed in a 4-2 vote with French and Mayor Kate Dexter voting yes and Schromen-Wawrin, Brendan Meyer, LaTrisha Suggs and Deputy Mayor Navarra Carr voting no.
The City Council will consider approving the revised capital facilitates plan after a second reading and public hearing June 15. The upland route was added to the proposal in a May 25 council work session.
Schromen-Wawrin said an upland route between Ennis Creek and Morse Creek, likely using back roads though the urban growth area, would provide an alternative to riding on U.S. Highway 101 during the inevitable trail closures.
“For me, the ecological restoration potential of the waterfront trail is really important and is being under-considered here,” Schromen-Wawrin added.
“That said, I’m absolutely hearing the community input, and I’m glad to see that we love bikes in Port Angeles.”
Carr said climate change would exacerbate winter storm damage on the waterfront, saying the city should begin planning for a “new normal.”
“I think tonight we’ve heard overwhelmingly that people want us to use their tax dollars to fund this project regardless of the weather events,” Carr said.
Suggs, a restoration planner for the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe, said the waterfront trail was built on known village sites of the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe.
“Any infrastructure that we continue to maintain also impacts culturally-sensitive areas, including cemeteries, including villages,” Suggs said.
“So this is something, too, that we need to also consider as a city when we’re looking at infrastructure along the nearshore.”
Dexter, who proposed the idea of long-term planning for an ODT upland route in an attempt to reach a consensus of the council last week, said she had talked herself out of the idea.
“I have every interest in continuing to maintain the trail, though I recognize that it presents some interesting challenges,” Dexter said.
“I think we have a lot of community partners who may be able to help us with that.”