PORT ANGELES — Repeated storm damage on a waterfront section of the Olympic Discovery Trail east of Port Angeles has opened the door to future conversations about an alternate path.
The Port Angeles City Council agreed by consensus Tuesday to add planning an “upland route” for the ODT as an unfunded project and line item in the city’s five-year capital facilities plan.
The overland route between Ennis Creek and Morse Creek would bypass the scenic-but-problematic Waterfront Trail segment between mileposts 3 and 4, which has been hit with significant storm damage in recent years.
“I think that that (upland route) actually improves the trail because it creates the option for two trails rather than one,” Council member Lindsey Schromen-Wawrin said in a Tuesday work session.
“If you want to walk on a sandy beach, there’s that option, and if you want to take a paved trail, there’s that option. I don’t see it as a detriment to the trail system.”
No cost estimates for the design, right-of-way acquisition or construction of a new trail through Gales Addition and the eastern Urban Growth Area were offered Tuesday.
Mayor Kate Dexter emphasized that no policy decisions were being made.
The council will hold public hearings on its revised capital facilities plan June 1 and June 15. Any decisions about an ODT upland route would be made months or years later after a robust community conversation, council members said.
“The City Council should be very cautious about getting too far ahead of the community on something as huge as this,” Peninsula Trails Coalition Board President Jeff Bohman said in a Thursday interview.
“We are glad to have the bigger-picture looked at, and we are confident that thorough analysis will be very convincing that the existing trail needs to just be taken care of.”
The city spends about $100,000 per year to maintain the ODT, which closed in December 2019 after heavy rain and waves caused multiple mudslides and undercut the asphalt.
The city, which owns the entire section of the Waterfront Trail between City Pier and Morse Creek in the unincorporated county, contracted with Clallam County Public Works to repair the trail in 2020.
Despite ongoing maintenance, the bluff above the trail continues to slump, and water pools up after rains.
“That lake section, we can go down there, ditch it, clean it out, and the next day it will be water over the roadway again,” City Parks and Recreation Director Corey Delikat told the City Council on Tuesday.
“It’s a constant battle.”
City parks and engineering staff had been working on short- and long-term solutions for the ODT since the winter of 2019-2020, Delikat said.
The city’s Waterfront Trail is one section of the Olympic Discovery Trail, a paved multipurpose trail for pedestrians, bicyclists and other non-motorized users.
The ODT attracts thousands of tourists to Clallam and Jefferson countries annually, including hundreds of runners competing in next weekend’s North Olympic Discovery Marathon.
Once completed, the ODT will connect the Puget Sound to the Pacific Ocean from Port Townsend to La Push.
“I am not at all interested in abandoning any section of the trail,” Council member Mike French said in the work session.
“We are one member of this huge, multi-jurisdictional web of one of the best transportation systems that we have on the Peninsula. So we need to take that responsibility very seriously.”
Much of the ODT, including the Port Angeles section, was built on an early 20th century railroad grade.
“There’s a joke about owning a boat,” Schromen Wawrin said.
“A boat is a hole in the water that you throw money into, and that’s what this railroad grade is for the city. It’s the most expensive part of the entire Olympic Discovery Trail, and somehow the city ended up holding the bag.”
Bohman said he listened to the audio of the council’s work session and described the decision to add the upland route to the list of unfunded infrastructure projects as a “knee-jerk reaction.”
“By and large, we’re completely interested and eager to have the conversation, and it’s finally at least demonstrating a level of concern and attention for the asset that has been sadly lacking for a long time,” Bohman said in a telephone interview.
“This is just the beginning of the conservation.”
Council Member LaTrisha Suggs broached the subject of the ODT after Finance Director Sarina Carrizosa gave a summary of the 318-page capital facilities plan.
“The (Olympic) Discovery Trail is right next to an environmentally sensitive area of shoreline that is impacted by high tides,” Suggs said.
“Having a trail in those areas that are environmentally sensitive is not an ideal situation when you’re the person ending up having to pay for the maintenance on that.”
The city’s capital facilities plan, as proposed through 2027, includes $593,000 for riprap repairs to the waterfront trail.
Deputy Mayor Navarra Carr said portions of the trail overhang the rocky shoreline, which made her “a little bit nervous” on a recent tour.
“I think that we as a council have an obligation to decide what we’re going to be doing about it,” Carr said.
“Do we decide to let nature take its course? And if we choose that, then I think we need a different route.”
Schromen-Wawrin said the decision of whether or not to decommission the existing trial would be part of a “larger conversation.”
French said the waterfront trail was in need of more substantial base repairs to its subsurface to resist further erosion.
“We need to make sure the trail is maintainable, and there’s some places along that trail where I’m not sure that that’s true right now because of that huge winter storm that just really wiped it out,” French said.
“Regarding the upland route, I am not interested in any plan that abandons the current trail.”
Schromen-Wawrin said the railroad companies “weren’t thinking about how bluff erosion works and how our sea level works” when they built the railroad grade that became the ODT.
The situation is different than when that infrastructure was put into place, “and we also know a lot more about the marine food web and what’s needed to maintain healthy fish populations in the Salish Sea,” Schromen-Wawrin said.
“So those are my reasons for saying that an alternate route is not losing anything, but actually gains a lot more, both for trail users and for a lot of other reasons.”
Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at [email protected].