PORT ANGELES — The City Council has approved a six-year infrastructure plan that contains a renamed alternate route for the Olympic Discovery Trail east of Port Angeles.
The Port Angeles City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to adopt the plan after renaming the controversial Upland Route between Ennis and Morse Creek as the Gales Addition Connector.
Planning a 3-mile bypass through the unincorporated Urban Growth Area remains an unfunded line item — project TR0721 — in the transportation section of the 2022-2027 Capital Facilities Plan and Transportation Improvement Plan.
“One thing that I would love the public to understand is that this Capital Facilities Plan is much bigger than any one project, and there’s going to be a lot of discussion in the future, hopefully in the next few council meetings, about the Discovery Trail,” council member Mike French said.
Later in the meeting, the council voted 6-0 — with Brendan Meyer excused — to add to its July 6 agenda a resolution in support of the Olympic Discovery Trail, detailing its policy positions and directives regarding trail maintenance.
Thirty of 31 speakers who testified Tuesday said they opposed the alternate route. Many said the city should do more to maintain the existing waterfront trail.
“I really appreciate the public input,” Mayor Kate Dexter said.
“It doesn’t happen very often that you get quite so much input, and I think the volume alone helped speak to the importance of the trail for the community.”
Some expressed fears that the city would abandon the current trail, an iconic segment of the 135-mile ODT, which will eventually connect Port Townsend to La Push.
“We have striven to create a route that ensures a peaceful, bucolic exposure to the surrounding environments, and the waterfront trail constitutes one of the unique, signature stretches of the entire length of the ODT,” said Jeff Selby, Jefferson County vice president of Peninsula Trails Coalition and 15-year board member.
“It seems puzzling to me that the city would propose an expensive alternative route when it has struggled to fund regular maintenance of the existing trail.”
No council member has suggested closing the trail east of Ennis Creek.
The connector would be an alternative to using U.S. Highway 101 during storm-related trail closures that have occurred between Ennis and Morse creeks as recently as last year.
The city’s six-year Capital Facilitates Plan contains $593,000 in riprap repairs for the waterfront trail, which was undercut by wave action and high tides in December 2019.
Trail advocates say more maintenance is needed to address bluff erosion and poor drainage along the trail between mileposts 3 and 4. The city owns and maintains the entire 4.5-mile stretch of trail between City Pier and Morse Creek in unincorporated Clallam County.
“This trail is unique to our city and region,” said Lucy Copass, one of 24 who left voice messages for the public comment period.
“We cannot afford to let it go.”
Copass and others said an upland bypass would involve difficult terrain — Lees Creek runs though the UGA — and right-of-way acquisition from long-established landowners.
“An upland alternative could take decades to complete and could prove far more costly than maintaining the present trail,” Copass said.
“Furthermore, it would not provide what the current trail provides, a level and beautiful route for environmentally friendly types of transportation that is accessible to all.”
Twenty-seven public speakers expressed unanimous support for maintaining the waterfront trail in the first public hearing on the Capital Facilities Plan on June 1.
At that meeting, French’s motion to remove the upland route from the city’s infrastructure plan failed in 4-2 vote.
Ian Miller, coastal hazards specialist with Washington Sea Grant program, was the only speaker to support planning an alternate trail route in the second public hearing Tuesday.
Miller began by saying he was an ardent supporter of the ODT.
“I believe, however, that examining options for alternate routes for the section of trail east of Morse Creek is the right thing to do,” Miller said.
“Over the past 50 years, sea level has almost certainly risen enough in Port Angeles to more than double the frequency of flooding events, and there is every reason to expect that sea level rise will accelerate the decades ahead.
“Simply put, it means more days where the ocean is finding its way over the riprap onto the trail, and more hours that waves are battering the riprap holding the trail in place,” Miller added.
“To be clear, I’m not in any way supportive of the decommissioning of the trail. But what I’m supporting is an assessment of alternate routes and their costs and benefits.”
As part of an extended discussion on infrastructure, the council voted Tuesday to develop a “cost-benefit approach” to the Capital Facilities Plan.
Dexter had suggested planning for ODT upland route in a May 25 work session in an effort to gain council consensus after colleagues Lindsey Schromen-Wawrin and LaTrisha Suggs expressed concerns about the long-term maintenance of the waterfront trail.
Peninsula Trails Coalition, which supports 14 government jurisdictions that own various trail segments, offered a draft resolution to assuage those concerns and “leave no ambiguity about the council and staff’s perpetual commitment to the existing waterfront trail,” PTC Board President Jeff Bohman said Tuesday.
French suggested a name change for the upland route “so that there is no confusion on the public’s side.”
Schromen-Wawrin suggested the Gales Addition Connector moniker.
“I do feel like this change in title, to me, makes it very clear,” Dexter said.
“It’s very clear what it is, and I think it is not unwise to make a connection, and continue to, of course, maintain the trail.”
Council member Charlie McCaughan, who missed the June 1 council meeting because his house was nearly destroyed in a fire, said he gained a new perspective on the waterfront trail while staying in a north-facing room at the Port Angeles Red Lion Hotel.
“I’ve seen how many people actually use that (trail) day-to-day, including my wife and I, and a considerable portion of it is westbound traffic coming to the city,” McCaughan said.
“I just want to go on record as saying I agree with the public. I do not want to see that part of the trail abandoned, or even considered being abandoned.”
Deputy Mayor Navarra Carr said an alternate route through Gales Addition would expand transportation options for city and county residents.
Schromen-Wawrin suggested an honest conversation about the long-term maintenance costs for the waterfront trail.
“The conditions under which we built the infrastructure in Port Angeles are not the same conditions that we’re going to be dealing with in the future, whether that’s issues around sea level rise, or issues around wildfire risk or issues around flooding in our creeks or issues on water availability,” Schromen-Wawrin said.
“We built infrastructure with certain assumptions. Those assumptions can’t be taken for granted in the future.”
Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.