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Gap looms in Port of Hood River waterfront path project

PORT CREWS from Peterson Bros. Construction pour a concrete retaining wall Thursday afternoon at the northern end of the Nichols Basin on the Hood River waterfront, part of the Port’s Nichols Basin West Edge trail project. The Port also started pouring concrete for a sidewalk portion of the trail on Monday.

Photo by Patrick Mulvihill.
PORT CREWS from Peterson Bros. Construction pour a concrete retaining wall Thursday afternoon at the northern end of the Nichols Basin on the Hood River waterfront, part of the Port’s Nichols Basin West Edge trail project. The Port also started pouring concrete for a sidewalk portion of the trail on Monday.

The Port of Hood River’s dream of a seamless pedestrian path connecting the entire waterfront has hit a major hurdle — a legal gap severs the Port’s and Naito Development LLC’s respective trail plans.

The Port discovered in mid-February that its Nichols Basin West Edge trail plans didn’t match those of Naito Development, which is planning to build a hotel on the south end of the Nichols Boat Basin. Between the two properties is a 7-foot height differential neither parties accounted for, a slope too steep for the envisioned paved trail which would lead to a sidewalk on Naito’s property.

If the Port and Naito don’t reach an agreement, their respective properties will cut off north and south of the incline, leaving the gap as a steep gravel driveway.

Port Executive Director Michael McElwee said the trail connection issue has “come to a head,” considering Naito Development is already planning construction on its hotel area as early as next week.

The Port is already deeply embroiled in construction at the Nichols Basin, further north. Over the last month, port crews constructed seawalls at the northern beach area of the project, and have been filling them with concrete over the last two weeks.

The trail connection complication to the south could freeze the Port’s construction plans in the upcoming months.

“It will affect construction of the road it and will delay us in construction in the south end,” said McElwee.

Sixty feet separate the end of the Port’s property from Naito’s — a stone’s throw geographically, but a chasm legally and financially.

McElwee described the gap area as “complex” due to its cluster of “oddly shaped property lines.” The proposed West Edge trail is bordered by easements allocated to Doug Hattenhauer, owner of the adjacent Riverfront 76 gas station, and the Oregon Department of Transportation, which protects a portion of the riparian area. Thus, any adjustments would require new permitting and potentially expensive construction.

The Port is poised to receive roughly $600,000 in state grant funding for the project. However, that doesn’t account for new costs required to connect the trail gap, said McElwee.

At a Port Commission meeting Tuesday, members of the Hood River Valley Residents Committee, a local land use watchdog group, urged the port to connect the trail gap as soon as possible.

“There will never be a cheaper or easier time to complete trail construction,” said Heather Staten, executive director of the committee.

Staten said the current plan for a gravel gap, and its heavy incline, would be an ADA accessibility obstacle.

“Able-bodied people will be able to walk up the drive from the road section to the (Naito) sidewalk, but for disabled people the end of your trail is really the end of the line,” said Staten.

Staten cited “poor planning” as the cause of the gap. In a letter to the Port, she said the Port’s architects, Walker-Macy, did not consult sufficiently with Naito’s respective architects when planning the trail.

McElwee hopes the Port and Naito can reach a swift agreement. “I think we need to identify a likely, preferred solution within three to four weeks,” said McElwee.

Local property development leaders met at the Nichols Basin site Thursday morning to discuss options. The impromptu meeting included McElwee, Naito Development LLC head Bob Naito, Hood River City Planning director Cindy Walbridge and City Engineering project manager Gary Lindemeyer.

McElwee described the meeting as “very constructive.” The waterfront planners honed in on two options for solving the incline debacle.

The first option would curl the trail path through the basin’s riparian in order to ease the incline. The challenge is that environmental and property easements limit any paved work in that protected area—unless the developers re-define their permits, the modifications would be made in gravel.

The second plan would stay more strictly within legal boundaries, but would require juggling of current riverfront barriers as well as constructing a ramp up to Naito’s sidewalk.

McElwee said the parties were unable to assign a “ballpark cost.” That was one of the next assignments the leaders gave themselves.

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